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Modest Mussorgsky 



His Life and Works 



Fair Lawn, N.J. 












The superior figures in the text refer to the bibliography on p. jo8 


THE tale of what happened to the manuscript of this book should, 
I think, be told. It had been commissioned by Kussevitsky for 
1924, but in 1925 my husband learned that Professor Lamm was 
preparing to pubhsh the full genuine text of 'Boris Godunof ' 
and subsequently of all Mussorgsky's other works, and this en- 
tailed much writing and rewriting of the book over many years. 
It was finished in 1938, while people were being hastily fitted with 
gas-masks and shelters were being built. The manuscript was sent 
to Paris, where Kussevitsky had his publishing firm, and there it 
stayed all during the war without our knowing if it was safe. 

My husband died on February ist, 1944. Kussevitsky died 
later and then followed the collapse of this firm after the war. 
Meanwhile Francis Poulenc, when visiting London, kindly 
promised to find out about the fate of the manuscript, which he 
most happily did. After the war came paper-rationing and other 
difficulties; that chapter is ended. But I cannot close this brief 
note without expressing my heartfelt gratitude to our friend 
Professor Gerald Abraham for his wonderful kindness in seeing 
this book through the press from a written manuscript, as my 
husband did not type. 

My thanks are also due to Mr. Basil Bessel for permission to 
reprint numerous excerpts from music of which he holds the 


IT should perhaps be made clear that the present book, 
Calvocoressi's magnum opus on the composer in whom he was 
interested above all others, is quite distinct from the two others 
he published on Mussorgsky, and is in no respect a revision or 
expansion of them. The first, written in French and published in 
1908 (a defective English version appeared in 19 19), was long 



accepted as a standard work; but, valuable as it was, it dated from 
a period when — as the author was the first to point out — 
Mussorgsky's original texts were largely unknown. The history 
of the second, the present work and the largest, has been told 
above by Mrs. Calvocoressi. The third, commissioned during the 
war by Messrs. J. M. Dent for their well-known 'Master Musicians' 
series, was planned on a much smaller scale and was still sadly 
incomplete when Calvocoressi died; the honour and responsibility 
of finishing it fell on me; it was published in 1946. But whereas in 
that case I was obliged to edit, recast, and supply missing passages 
on a major scale, my editorial work on the present book has been 
limited to the minimum involved in the operation known as 
'seeing through the press'. 

Liverpool, 1956 GERALD ABRAHAM 



TO write, at thirty-one years interval, two books on the same 
composer is bound to be a strange experience:* but, given the 
particular circumstances of the Mussorgsky case, it becomes 
overwhelmingly strange. I did not find it at all strange that my 
further study of his music should have confirmed me in con- 
victions that I had expressed from the first — although not forcibly 
and unreservedly enough, the reason being that, at the time, I 
could not bring myself to believe the many experienced judges 
who expatiated so freely on the crudeness and clumsiness of his 
methods to have been entirely wrong. But this is not the main 
thing. That my early book in French (written in 1907, published 
in the spring of 1908) should have been hinted, even in Russia, 
as representing a distinct advance on anything done before is to 
be regarded as a proof not so much of its merits as of the scarcity 
of literature on the subject, and even of reliable information. 
No reasonably adequate catalogue of Mussorgsky's works had been 
compiled, the biographies in existence were scanty and at times 
misleading. Vladimir Stassof, whose brief biography of 1881^ 
was the main source of reference available, possessed an enormous 
amount of invaluable first-hand information: but published very 
little of it, and used some of it (for instance, the autobiographical 
notes — see chapter I) misleadingly. Later he communicated some 
of it to Nikolai Findeisen : and a good deal lay in his correspondence 
with Balakiref, Rimsky-Korsakof, and others, unpublished at that 
time, and not yet published in full. Hardly anything was known of 
Mussorgsky's own letters. Certain documents already in print — 
notably Kompaneisky's Recollections, which show, among 
other things, the origin of his dipsomania (see chapter H) — had 
appeared in 1906.^ But no file of the Russian Musical Gazette existed 
in France. Of the genuine Boris Godunof, nothing was available 
except the 1874 vocal score. 

But, from 1908 on, a wealth of new texts and information 

* Still later the author began a third, much shorter, study of Mussorgsky; this was 
far from complete at his death and was finished by Gerald Abraham (Dent, 1946). 


author's preface 

began to crop up. The score of The Marriage appeared that year. 
In 1909 came Rimsky-Korsakof's Memoirs and the important 
manuscript Tears of Youth, purchased by Charles Malherbe, and 
containing many unknown songs and variants of known songs. 
Mussorgsky's letters to Stassof and to Balakiref appeared 1909- 
191 1.2 In short by 191 1, when a second edition was called for, 
my book was hopelessly out of date. The publisher agreed to relax 
the rule that no volume in the series of which mine was part should 
exceed 250 pages (a rule which had compelled me to suppress a 
chapter devoted to a comparison between the 1874 vocal score of 
Boris Godunof and Rimsky-Korsakof's revision), but only to the 
extent of allowing me to add a brief notice of The Marriage and a 
note on Tears of Touth. 

Forthwith I started planning another, more comprehensive book. 
In 191 2 Serge Makovsky, the proprietor and editor of the splendid 
art periodical Apollon, commissioned this for publication in St. 
Petersburg. The war naturally put an end to the scheme and my 
plans remained dormant until the 1920s, when Serge Kussevitsky 
invited me to proceed with them. 

By that time it seemed reasonable to hope that a fairly adequate 
biographical and criticial study could be achieved, even though 
many important materials (neither I nor anybody else realized 
how many) were still undiscovered or inaccessible. But in 1925 
the news came that Professor Paul Lamm of Moscow had begun 
to prepare a complete critical edition of the works. The first- 
fruit of his labours, the genuine Boris Godunof including the full 
score and all discoverable variants, appeared in 1928. It was also 
announced that several important books^'* would appear in 
1 93 1, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of Mussorgsky's 
death. And so, from then until 1938, my work proceeded very 
much after the fashion of Penelope's tapestry, with long intervals 
of waiting in between. By now, thanks to the splendid work 
accomplished in Russia, it seems unlikely that any musical 
compositions or documents shedding entirely new light upon 
Mussorgsky remain to be discovered, even though a number of 
letters of his not yet published are known to exist. So I release 
my work at long last, wondering the while how much time will 
elapse before points that are still obscure will finally be elucidated. 

The foregoing remarks make clear how much I owe to my 
Russian colleagues. I gratefully acknowledge my indebtedness, 
first and foremost to the late Nikolai Findeisen, the founder and 

authors' preface 

editor of the Russian Musical Gazette. In 191 2 he provided me with 
a wealth of precious documents, most of them pubHshed by now, 
together with many others,^ at the time practically impossible 
to locate, let alone procure ; and he continued to help me until his 
untimely death in 1926, at the age of fifty-six. Then, to Andrei 
Rimsky-Korsakof, whose scholarship and untiring willingness to 
assist have been invaluable, and whose own contributions to the 
literature of the subject, from his essay (191 7) on Boris Godunof in 
the Musical Contemporary, which he founded in 191 5, to his edition 
of the collected letters,* are of capital importance. The latter, a 
monument of scholarship and industry, filled many gaps and 
spared me (as it will spare other workers) many doubts and 

The temptation to translate the whole, or nearly all, of the 
letters was great, and I have no doubt that permission would have 
been generously granted. The idea, however, proved impossible 
to entertain as it would have meant a considerable increase in the 
bulk of this book.* 

For the same reason, I compressed all my quotations from letters 
and other documents as much as it seemed possible to do without 
altering their purport. As to the character of Mussorgsky's own 
letters, it would have been impossible not to alter it: 

He was fond of imitating the style of the clerics and officials whom 
he depicted in Boris and Khovanshchina. He resorted freely to pseudo- 
archaic and pseudo-slavic terms, and also to imitation of the modes 
of speech of characters in Dostoevsky's novels. In his correspondence 
we see him assuming no less than four distinct aspects: that of a 
seventeenth-century cleric, that of an eighteenth-century scholar, that 
of a brilliant officer of the Guards and that of a pitiful childlike figure. 

Being fond of masquerading, he was equally fond of bestowing 
nicknames upon friends and foes — sometimes, according to his mood of 
the moment, an affectionate or a malicious nickname upon the same 
man. His humour often inclined to the caricatural, the parodic, and 
the grotesque. His way of writing is so live and impetuous that often 
it suggests his very intonations, facial expressions and gestures. He could 
use vivid images to good purpose, and be extraordinarily live, bright, 
original and forcible. But at times, he indulged in short cuts, jerks and 
sudden leaps that rendered the trend of his utterances difficult to 

* They have since been translated by Jay Leyda and Sergei Bertensson as The 
Mussorgsky Reader (Norton, New York, 1947) ; this collection also includes the letters 
to Golenishchef-Kutuzof originally published separately in 1939. — Ed. 


authors' preface 

Much of this was not pecuHar to Mussorgsky, but quite usual 
in the group. ^ Nikolsky's style in his letters is very similar. Many 
of the nicknames used in conversation or in correspondence were 
invented by one member, Nikolai Borozdin. Vladimir Stassof 's 
letters to Rimsky-Korsakof often begin with superscriptions such 
as "Most splendid [or "excellent" or "beautiful"] admiralship" 
by way of allusion to the composer's service in the navy, and his 
letters to Nadejda Rimsky-Korsakof with "Madame I'Admirale". 
One letter begins with "First and foremost of all Andreivitchs 
and Nikolais", which is as exuberantly frolicsome as anything 
ever written by Mussorgsky. Rimsky-Korsakof did not unbend so 
freely; but, once at least, he addressed Stassof as "Very respected, 
deeply honoured et cetera Vladimir Vassilievitch", and once he 
offered him "ten thousand quadrillion thanks" (a i followed by 
twenty-nine cyphers) for having checked a translation of the 
opera Sadko. Borodin, in his letters to his wife, used over half-a- 
hundred pet-names or nicknames for her, some of them most 
cryptic and strange. So, before any attempt is made to draw any 
psychological conclusions from Mussorgsky's correspondence, 
the circumstances of the case should be very carefully investi- 

I have seldom attempted to reproduce any of the above- 
mentioned idiosyncrasies. My own feeling is that they connote 
animal spirits rather than peculiarities in his mental make-up. 
And, anyhow, anyone wishful to study the style of his letters for 
ulterior purposes would naturally be bound to deal with them in 
the original Russian, and in full. While I am on the subject of the 
liberties I have taken, I should perhaps offer some kind of apology 
for having introduced into musical terminology the term 'variable 
scale'. I am not unaware that it is customary to speak of major or 
minor scales with occasional raised or flattened notes, or of fusion 
of major and minor, and so on: but the more I study Russian 
(and Greek) folk-music and Mussorgsky's music, the more 
strongly I feel that those designations do not meet the case — a 
view that the examples in my chapters on Mussorgsky's style 
will, I hope, justify. 

To revert to tributes : I offer my hearty thanks to Professors Igor 
Gliebof, Victor Belaief, Paul Lamm and George Khubof for 
valuable information and suggestions; and to my wife, not only 
for reading and checking my manuscript, but also for help in 
solving delicate problems of wording and, most of all, for a 



number of ideas and arguments incorporated in my account of 
Mussorgsky's character, life and music. 

I have tried, when making points already made by other 
writers, always to acknowledge my indebtedness. Should I 
unwittingly have failed to do so now and then, I apologize in 

M. D. G. 
November, 1938 



Foreword vii 

Author's Preface ix 

List of Illustrations xix 


i The Autobiographical Documents i 

The autobiographical sketches — How they came into 
being — Their untrustworthiness — Scarcity of informa- 
tion on Mussorgsky's childhood — His catalogues of 
his works 

ii Ancestry, Childhood, Early Youth 1 2 

Mussorgsky's ancestry and family — Childhood in 
Karevo — School years in Petersburg — Disastrous 
atmosphere and influences — Musical Petersburg in the 
'fifties — Mussorgsky meets Dargomyjsky, Borodin, 
Balakiref, and Cui 

iii 1857 — 1862 27 

Mussorgsky becomes Balakiref's pupil — Studies and 
exercises — First compositions — Illness — Resigns his 
commission to become a composer — Visits to Moscow 
— Morbid crisis — Mussorgsky at twenty — New out- 
break of illness — His prospects altered after the libera- 
tion of the serfs — Cure and stay in the country — His 
ideas and plans 

iv Mussorgsky in 1862 46 

His talents, character, and disposition — His immaturity 
in composition — Early works surveyed — ^Dissimilar 
versions of songs 

V 1863-1867 57 

Mussorgsky matures — Joins a community — Enters the 
civil service — Starts composing Salammbo — Attack of 
delirium tremens and cure — New friendships — Disqui- 
sition on art — Significant compositions — Estrangement 
from Balakiref 

vi Mussorgsky at the End of 1867 81 

Significance of his songs — His realistic aims — Definition 



Chapter Page 

of realism in art — The stages of realism in music — 
Mussorgsky finds himself under the influence of literary 
and philosophical ideas 

vii 1 868 96 

Mussorgsky sets to music an act of Gogol's comedy The 
Marriage — His enthusiasms — His decision not to 
proceed further — His dissertations on aesthetics — The 
music of The Marriage — Life with the Opotchinins — 
Pen-portraits by friends — Starts work on Boris Godunof 

viii 1 869- 1 872 115 

Work on Boris Godunof- — The first version — Its rejection 
— The second version — It is rejected too — Life with 
Rimsky-Korsakof — Mlada — Close friendship with 
Vladimir Stassof — First idea of Khovanshchina 

ix 1873 129 

Mussorgsky falls a prey to dipsomania — His friends' 
concern and efforts — He recovers — Boris accepted for 

X The First Boris Godunof 137 

Mussorgsky works at great speed — The first version 
completed — The libretto — The music — His friends' 
attitude to the work — Its rejection compels him to 
remodel it 

xi 1872-1873 157 

The second Boris Godunof- — What Mussorgsky may have 
felt about it — He waxes enthusiastic — The new Boris 
cuts; added scenes; character of the work altered — 
Comparison of the two versions — His friends enthu- 
siastic — Balakiref's censures — Boris again rejected — 
Excerpts performed in February 1873 — Success and 
criticisms — Boris accepted at last 

xii Boris Godunof on the Stage 174 

The Petersburg Opera and its public — Boris splendidly 
produced but ruthlessly cut — Its triumphal success — 
Hostile critics — Cui's attack — History of Boris until 
Mussorgsky's death — Further cuts 

xiii 1 874- 1 88 1 182 

The Pictures from an Exhibition — The work on Khovansh- 
china and The Sorotchintsi Fair — Nadejda Opotchinina's 
death — Leonova — Mussorgsky unable to resist his 
dipsomania — Ups and downs — The song-set Sunless — 
Fresh disquisitions on art — The Naumof family — 
Decline in his capacity for work — Money difficulties 
increase — Concert tour with Leonova — Help from 



Chapter Page 

friends — He vainly tries to work at both his operas 
jointly — Final collapse and death 

xiv Khovanshchina and The Sorotchintsi Fair 2 1 1 

Khovanshchina nearly finished in vocal score form — • 
Lack of dramatic action — Main differences between 
the music and that of Boris Godunof- — The existing 
portions of The Sorotchintsi Fair 

XV Posthumous Fate of the Works 215 

Rimsky-Korsakof as editor and reviser — The revisions 
versus the originals — A history of opinion in Russia 
and other countries — Gradual reaction in favour of 
the originals 

xvi Technique and Style (I) 234 

Influence of Russian folk-music — Its modes, scales, 
and rhythms — Native part-singing — Harmonization 
problems — The question of Mussorgsky's technical 
ability and musical feeling. 

xvii Technique and Style (II) 254 

Relation of Mussorgsky's music to Russian folk-music — 
Modal, irregular, and variable scales — Metres and 
rhythms — Realism and music-shaping — Note-values 
and intervals — Syllabic and non-syllabic treatment — 
Scarcity of upbeats, feminine endings, and syncopation 
— Musical finger-prints — Interrelation of melody and 
harmony — Harmony: consecutives and discords — 
Appoggiaturas and pedal-points — Scarcity of suspen- 
sions — Polyphony — Cadences and modulations 

xviii Technique and Style (III) 290 

Forms — Keys — Tonality and modality — Tonal plans 
and structure — Vocal and instrumental parts — 
Instrumental style 

xix A Few Conclusions 

Artistic heredity — The question of style — Influence 
on the ulterior course of musical art — Ever-increasing 
recognition of the artistic value of Mussorgsky's works 

Key to Bibliographical Sources 308 

Catalogue of Mussorgsky's Works 3 1 o 

General Index 314 

Index to Musical Examples 322 




From the painting by Repin 

RIMSKY-KORSAKOF facing page 92 



From a drawing by Repin 





Setting by P. Williams 


Rights of reproduction reserved to S.P.A.D.E.M., Paris 


chapter i 

The Autobiographical Documents 

The autobiographical sketches — How they came into being — 
Their untrustworthiness — Scarcity of information on Mussorg- 
sky's childhood — His catalogues of his works 

THE first documents with which Mussorgsky's biographers 
have to deal are a few from his own pen : two catalogues of his 
compositions, one of which contains scraps of useful information, 
and autobiographical sketches written in 1 880 — rough, unfinished 
drafts, which Vladimir Stassof used, not very scientifically, as 
early as 1881^ but which remained otherwise unknown until 
191 7, when they were published with valuable comments by 
Vladimir Karenin.* Text and comments, together with a wealth 
of fresh information were reprinted in 1932 by Andrei Rimsky- 
Korsakof.* These documents contain all that we are able to know 
about Mussorgsky's childhood and early youth, except for the 
meagre information provided by his brother Philaret and 
Alexandra Molas. 

The sketches are three in number: one in Russian, two in 
French. One of these two is simply a copy, with corrections, of 
the other; and the French text is no translation of the Russian, 
but contains interesting complements and variants. Karenin's 
conclusion is that this French text was dictated or simply outlined 
by Mussorgsky and drawn up by a German — which is shown by 
the incorrect diction and the use of many hyperbolic epithets. 
There are quite as many hyperbolic epithets in the Russian 
text which, in Andrei Rimsky-Korsakof's opinion, is very similar 
in character to that of Mussorgsky's letters of the same period, 
and especially those written to Fedorova and the Naumofs in 
July and August 1879. 

Here is the translation of the Russian text, with the principal 
complements and variants to be found in the French as published 
by Karenin. Erased portions are given in square brackets: 

* Vladimir Karenin was the pen-name of Varvara Komarova, the daughter of 
Dimitri Stassof, Vladimir's brother.^' 


Modest [Petr] Mussorgsky. Russian Composer. Born March i6* 1839, 
in the Toropets district, government of Pskof. A scion of an old Russian 
family. Under the influence of his nurse, he became familiar with the 
Russian tales. | This familiarity with the very spirit of the people's life 
was the main impulse that drove him to extemporize music before 
knowing even the most elementary rules of piano playing. His mother 
gave him his first piano lessons. J He made such progress that at the 
age of seven, he was able to play small pieces of Liszt; and at the age 
of nine, before a big audience, at his parents' home, he played a big 
concerto by Field. His father, who worshipped music, decided that the 
child's gifts should be developed — and his musical education was 
continued under Herke at Petersburg. This teacher was so pleased 
with his pupil that he made him play, at the age of twelve, a Concert 
Rondo by Herz at a charity concert given at the house of Mrs. Riumin, 
a lady-in-waiting. The success and the impression created by the young 
musician's playing were so great that Professor Herke, although an 
exacting judge of his pupils, presented him with a copy of Beethoven's 
Sonata in A flat major. At thirteen, young Mussorgsky entered the 
school of the Cadets of the Guards, and was honoured by the late 
Emperor Nicholas's particularly gracious notice. At that time, he 
composed a small piano piece and inscribed it to his comrades. This 
was published by his father's orders with Herke's help. It was the 
young [gifted] composer's first published composition. At the school, 
he sedulously sought the company of the religious instructor, Father 
Krupsky, and thanks to him succeeded in penetrating deep into the 
very essence of old church music, Greek§ and Catholic. 

At seventeen, he entered the Preobrajensky regiment. One of his 
brother officers, Vanliarsky, introduced him to the great Dargomyjsky|| 
at whose house he made friends with the great representatives of musical 
art in Russia, Cesar Cui and Balakiref.^f With the latter the nineteen- 
year-old composer studied the whole history of the evolution of musical 
art, from actual examples and with strictly systematic analyses of all the 

* It was in 191 1 only that B, Tiutchef discovered the true date of Mussorgsky's 
birth: not 16/28 March but 9/21 March (see infra, p. 13). 

t In the French: "Des sa petite enfance, influx de par les recits de sa bonne {niania) 
des skaski russes (mdrchen) il a d^ja fierement sympathise k la po6tique fantaisie; tout 
enfant encore, il veillait peut-etre des nuits. De la vient naitre la passion de dire au 
monde en sons musicaux le tout de Thomme, pour I'incorporer en formes musicales, 
ni plus ni moins! Le petit a attaqu^ le piano a I'improviste, sans meme, comme de 
raison, avoir eu la possibility de connaitre I'A.B.G. ni le mecanisme. . . ." 

+ In the French: "Lemons durant il n'a pu supporter ce qu'on lui prescrivait. 
N^anmoins. . . ." 

§ In the French: " luth^rienne-protestante". 

II In the French: "le grand r^formateur en musique". 

^ In the French : " le grand coeur et le grand esprit de Balakireff ont fait ressusciter 
Moussorgsky pour aller 'a large pature'. Sous la direction de Balakireff Moussorgsky 
a ^tudi6 serieusement I'histoire de I'art musical, avec analyse. . . ." 


capital works of Europe's composers in their historical order, and 
sedulous playing of these works on two pianos.* Balakiref introduced 
him into the family of one of the greatest connoisseurs of the arts in 
Russia, the famous art critic Stassof, and to the sister of [the famous] 
the genius, Glinka, the creator of Russian music. Cui, on the other 
hand, introduced Mussorgsky to the famous Polish composer Moniuszko. 
Soon afterwards, Mussorgsky made friends with another distinguished 
composer, now a famous professor at the Petersburg Conservatorium, 
N. A. Rimsky-Korsakof. These close relations with this little circle of 
talented musicians, and also with a wide circle of Russian scholars and 
authors, such a Vladimir Lamansky, Turgenief, Kostomarof, Grigoro- 
vitch, Kavelin, Pissemsky, Shevtchenkoj and others, greatly stimulated 
the young composer's mental activities and gave his mind an earnest, 
strictly scientific turn. The results of these felicitous relations were a 
whole series of compositions inspired by the life of the Russian people J 
and a friendship struck at Mrs. Shestakova's house with Professor V. 
Nikolsky led to the composition of the grand opera Boris Godunof after 
the great Pushkin's play. Boris Godunof was performed at the house of 
the privy councillor Purgold, a great art-lover, with the co-operation 
of his nieces A. and N. Purgold, both of them earnest, gifted performers, 
and before a very big audience, including the famous Petrof, Platonova, 
Komissarjevsky, and the assistant of the director Lukashevitch. Then it 
was forthwith decided to produce on the stage three scenes from this 
opera, although not long before the opera had been rejected by the 
Direction of the theatres. And so, finally, the whole opera was produced 
with the co-operation of the famous singer Leonova and of the above- 
named artists who gave it the support of their talent. It took the public 
by storm. The impression created by the artists and orchestra was 
prodigious and this success constituted for the author a triumph all 
along the line.§ 

Subsequently, two operas Khovanshchina and The Sorotchintsi Fair after 
Gogol, were planned with the co-operation of the critic Stassof and 
Professors Nikolsky and Kostomarof. By way of relaxation while 

* At this point occur a few erased passages. Karenin reads them thus: "It is 
Mussorgsky and Balakiref alone who took the initiative . . . not only in making known 
. . . Mussorgsky and Balakiref, far more than anybody else, helped to popularize in 
Russia the music of Schumann, Berlioz and Liszt." 

t Mussorgsky wrote down, and then struck out, the name of Dostoevsky : probably, 
Karenin says, because the list he was giving referred only to people he had actually 

+ Variant: "The result of these relations was intensive self-education in philosophy 
and natural history. He formed a little circle in i860 and began to know and study 
literature from i860 to 1862; the result of this mental work came to light in 1866, 
consisting in a series of original compositions. ..." 

§ In the French: "C'est alors que Moussorgsky a 6t6 amicalement regu dans la 
famille Petroff (c^ebres artistes russes) ; la famille Petroff a grandement donn^ la 
vraie et franche position au commengant compositeur". 


engaged on this work Mussorgsky composed: Album Serie on the 
exhibition of the great architect Hartmann's designs, Danse Macabre"^ 
(five numbers) on texts by another author, Count Golenishchef- 
Kutuzof, and a few songs on texts by Count Alexei Tolstoi. In 1879 the 
famous Russian singer Leonova invited Mussorgsky to undertake a 
big artistic tour through Russia, Little-Russia, the Crimea and on the 
Don and Volga. This journey lasted three months and was a real 
triumphal march for the two great Russian artists: the talented 
composer and the famous singer. 

On the way, the composer planned to translate into music a poem 
by the great Goethe which had not yet been dealt with from the 
musical point of view, the 'Song of Mephistopheles in the Auerbach 
tavern, the Flea'. Two of Mussorgsky's impressions of his journey 
through the Crimea have already appeared in print: the capriccios 
'Baldary' and 'Gurzuf '. He also composed and performed himself at 
several concerts a big tone-picture Storm on the Black Sea. Carrying to 
their end the two grand operas Khovanshcina and The Sorotchintsi Fair, 
which are now going through the press [which the author is preparing 
for the press] simultaneously with a big Suite on themes from the Trans- 
caspian region [Central Asian themes]. | A few of the most brilliantly 
original vocal pictures 'Savishna', 'The Orphan', 'The Rude Rascal', 
'Hopak', were presented by the composer's friend Von Madeweiss, 
who greatly admired them, to the Strasburg library, together with a 
letter from the author explaining these songs. 

Two Scherzi: B flat major and C sharp minor: the former was 
performed, A. Rubinstein, who wished the author to have a first 
opportunity of hearing his music, conducting the orchestra, J 'Im- 
promptu', 'Prelude' and 'Menuet Monstre', 'Savishna', 'Hopak', 
'Plucking Mushrooms' (words by Mey), 'Hebrew Song' for chorus 
and orchestra, 'The Destruction of Sennacherib' (words by Byron), 
'Jesus Navinus' (on old Hebrew themes, noted down by the author), 
'The Rude Rascal', 'The Grasshopper' (words by Pushkin), 'Inter- 
mezzo Symphonique', 'Kinderscherz', 'La Fileuse', 'King Saul' (after 
a Hebrew text), 'Hebrew Song', 'Child's Song, Nanina' {sic), 'Album 
of Child Life', 'Forgotten' (a picture of the Central-Asian campaign), 
'Night Fantasy' (after Pushkin), 'Yeremushka' (words by Nekrassof), 
and polemical: 'The Classicist', 'The Peep-Show', 'The Seminarist', 
the last-named banned in Russia, circulated in many manuscript copies, 
published abroad. 

* In the French: 'Danse Macabre Russe'. 

•j" This sentence is translated word for word, and the original punctuation is given. 

% It was, Karenin affirms, entirely thanks to Dimitri Stassof's insistence that this 
Scherzo was performed at the Imperial Russian Music Society. Dimitri Stassof was 
one of the Society's founders, and at the time (i860) the director of the Petersburg 


Neither by the character of his compositions, nor by his musical 
opinions does Mussorgsky belong to any of the existing circles. The 
formula of his artistic profession de foi may be made clear by his view, 
as a composer, on the duty of art. Art is a means of discoursing with 
men, and not an end. This leading principle determines all his creative 
activities. Starting from the conviction that human speech is governed 
by strictly musical laws (Virchow, Gerwinus,) he holds that the duty of 
musical art is to reproduce in musical tones not only the moods of 
human sensibility but also, generally, the moods of human speech, 
acknowledging that in the matter of art only reformer-artists such as 
Palestrina, Bach, Gluck, Beethoven, Berlioz, Liszt created laws for art, 
he regards such laws not as immutable, but as progressing and changing 
as does the whole mental world of man. 

Under the influence of his views, thus evolved, on the duties and 
character of his work — a whole. . . . 

Stassof treated these three sketches jointly as one authorita- 
tive document, never describing them, copying portions of them 
word for word, or almost, and making it appear that he was giving 
facts under his own authority. The outcome was that for forty 
years other biographers, who (no other source of information 
existing — especially as regards the childhood and early youth) 
naturally followed him, were misled. The revelation that the 
autobiography consisted of three unfinished rough drafts, in 
which inaccuracies and misstatements teemed, and whose tone 
was, in places, that of a clumsily devised and ill-written trade- 
circular or 'Society gossip' paragraph, came as a shock to all. 

The first question that arose was how the sketches had come 
to be written. According to Stassof "the autobiography was 
intended for a foreign publisher, by request". Karenin, in 191 7, 
surmised that the sketches might be drafts of the 'explanatory 
letter' brought to Strasburg. Fifteen years later, Andrei Rimsky- 
Korsakof provided a solution which appears faultless. He dis- 
covered, in the Russky Muzykalny Viestnik for i October 1881, a 
note signed "M.P." (this note is translated infra, p. 17) stating 
that Mussorgsky, shortly before his death, had told the writer 
of his sending to Hugo Riemann "a fairly circumstantial auto- 
biography in French". Andrei Rimsky-Korsakof* adds the 
following remarks : "In 1880 Riemann was preparing his 
'Dictionary of Music' and had sent questionnaires to musicians 
of all countries (a copy was found among Borodin's papers). 
The Dictionary appeared in 1882, and in the first edition, the 


brief article devoted to Mussorgsky mentions, among his works, 
the 'Danses Macabres Russes' of the French draft: in point of 
fact, the songs referred to, four in number, appeared in 1882 
only under the title Songs and Dances of Death.''^ 

If this solution is accepted, the conclusion follows that the final 
text of the autobiography, if still in existence, ought to be in 
Riemann's archives or in those of his publisher; and the peculiar 
tone and character of the sketches are accounted for. 

Mussorgsky, writing in 1880, at a time when he was ill, poor, 
vainly striving to finish Khovanshchina and The Sorotchintsi Fair, and 
seeing the only work of his which had won a measure of fame, 
Boris Godunof, mutilated in performance and gradually dropping 
out of the repertory (see infra, chapter XII) was not unnaturally 
tempted to show himself — especially when writing for publication 
abroad — in the best possible light; to indulge, so to speak, in a 
little window-dressing. 

There is something very pathetic in the way in which he 
emphasized the success of Boris Godunof and the approval which 
some other works of his had won ; in the mention of the two new 
operas "now going through the press" and the doubts as to how 
far he should anticipate the future which the crossed-out alterna- 
tive version "being prepared for the press" reveals; and in the 
very clumsiness with which he tackled the task, new to him, of 
self-praise (his letters show him proud of his artistic ideals, but 
ever modest when referring to his achievements). And so, the 
sketches are of unquestionable value to the biographer for the 
light they throw on Mussorgsky's psychology in 1880. 

They are valuable in other respects too — for the tributes paid to 
Dargomyjsky and Balakiref, and for his statements of his ambitions 
as an artist. As regards the earlier part of his life, on which we 
have either no other information or very scanty information, they 
may be accepted as fairly reliable, even though much of the 
account of his childhood may be no less embellished than, for 
instance, the reference to what he learnt from Father Krupsky 
turns out to be (see next chapter, p. 17). Stassof may have had 
from Mussorgsky oral confirmation of more statements than one. 

In a letter to Nikolsky of 1870 (28 June [10 July]) the passage: 
"You know how great an attraction the native countryside 
exercises upon me. It is not in vain that as a child I found it 
worth my while to listen to the mujiks and to try my own hand at 
their songs" confirms what the sketches say of his early interest 



in "the spirit of the people's Hfe". In short, the sketches should 
neither be accepted at their face-value nor treated with un- 
remitting suspicion. 

The following chapters will rectify, so far as is possible in the 
present state of our knowledge, the inaccuracies in the sketches 
and in the catalogues of 1871 and 1878; but a few secondary 
points should be dealt with forthwith. The passage concerning the 
gift to the Strasbourg library raised the hope that Mussorgsky 
manuscripts might be found there. Karenin surmised that what 
was given might have been the manuscript album of songs Tears of 
Youth acquired by Charles Malherbe in 1909. This manu- 
script, however, contains none of the songs mentioned in 
Mussorgsky's reference to the gift. And in 1909, when the present 
writer examined it, the album bore no sign of library stamp or 
ever having been catalogued; and Malherbe told the friends to 
whom he showed it that he had purchased it (for the incredibly low 
sum of 500 francs) from a Russian living in Russia, whom he 
refused to name. 

In 1924 the Director of the Strasburg Conservatoire, J. Guy 
Ropartz, very kindly undertook to investigate the matter at the 
present writer's request, and communicated the results as follows : 

The Strasbourg Library possesses the set of seven songs by Mussorgsky 
published by Johansen (the set which includes 'Hopak'). The copy 
bears the library's stamp with the date 1871, which shows that it was 
received just after the destruction by fire of the library in the Place du 
Marche Neuf — that is, at a moment when gifts were flowing in from 
everywhere. But there is no trace of a manuscript or letter of 
Mussorgsky's. I was told that all the correspondence referring to these 
gifts had been deposited in the Archives Departmentales. I went 
there, and found no letter of Mussorgsky's in the Russian file. I was 
also told that in 1871 gifts poured in so fast, that it was almost 
impossible to keep the tally up to date. Many things may have been 
lost, including, maybe, the document that would have interested you. 

[Signed] J. Guy Ropartz 

Conservatoire de Strasbourg, 31 March, 1924. 

Investigations carried out, round about the same time, by 
Robert Godet, Mussorgsky's French biographer, and by Professor 
M. P, Alexeief, of Irkutsk* naturally failed to reveal anything 



Very little has been discovered concerning the giver, or carrier, 
"Von Madeweiss". Godet^ wonders whether he was the "hot- 
blooded Prussian" whom Mussorgsky encountered at Volok in 
1862 (see zVz/'m, p. 45) . Karenin {loc.cit.) discovered that Pazdirek's 
Universal Handbook of Musical Literature mentions a certain Georg 
von Madeweiss as the author of songs and piano pieces published 
by Schlesinger; and Andrei Rimsky-Korsakof, * that a piano piece 
by Georg von Madeweiss, entitled 'At the Sewing-machine' was 
published in 1880 as musical supplement to the Petersburg 
Voskresny Listok Muzyki. He also reminds us that it was in 1880 
or so that Mussorgsky wrote his piano scherzino 'The Seamstress' 
— a curious little coincidence. 

The 1 87 1 catalogue was drawn up at Liudmila Shestakova's 
request (she made similar requests to Balakiref, Cui, Borodin and 
Rimsky-Korsakof ) . It was used by Stassof, but not published in 
full until 1932.* 


His first composition (published, to his distress, by Bernard in 1852) 
was 'Porte-Enseigne Polka' inscribed to his comrades at the Cadet 
School. He was thirteen years old. 
1856 Attempt to compose an opera after Victor Hugo's Hans d^Islande. 

Nothing came of it, because nothing could (the author was 


1858 Scherzi: (i) in B flat major, performed in i860 at a concert 
of the Russian Music Society, A. Rubinstein conducting. 

(2) C sharp minor, for piano — unpublished. 
Songs: one of these, 'Tell me, gentle maiden' is published. 
Started composing music for Sophocles' tragedy (Edipus. A 
chorus in the temple of the Eumenides, before (Edipus appears, 
was given in 1861 at one of K. Liadof's concerts. 

1859 Nervous malady. Took the waters at Tikhvin in the Novgorod 
District, and composed 'Kinderscherz' (to appear shortly). 

i860 Developed his brain. 

1 86 1 Intermezzo (to appear shortly). 
Preludio in modo classico. 

1862 Set his brain in order and acquired useful knowledge. 

1863 A few songs. One, 'King Saul', to appear shortly. 

1864 Started an opera after Flaubert's Salammbo (on the Punic wars). 
At the end of the year, two scenes were finished in vocal score 

'Night' (ballad fantasy) to appear shortly. 



First attempt at the comic : Nekrassof 's Kallistrat. 

1865 About ten unpublished songs. 
A scene of Salammbo. 

'Lullaby' from Ostrovsky's The Voevode (to appear shortly) . 

1866 Chorus on Byron's 'Hebrew melody' The Destruction of Sen- 
nacherib (performed in 1867, Balakiref and Lomakin conducting 
at a Free School of Music concert). Published in 1871. 
'Savishna' (published). 

'Hopak', from Shevtchenko's Haidamaks (published). 
'The Seminarist' (published and banned by the Censor). 
'Yarema's Song' from Shevtchenko's Haidamaks. 
Started a tone-picture, A Night on the Bare Mountain. 

1867 Finished A Might on the Bare Mountain in full score. 
'Gathering Mushrooms'. 

'Jewish Song'. 

'The Banquet' ^ , , ,. , ,. 

'The Goat' / (P^bhshed). 

'The Magpie'. 

'The Ragamuffin'. 

'The Classicist' (the first of the musical pamphlets — published). 

1868 'The Orphan'. 
'A Child's Song'. 

First act of Gogol's The Marriage (composed on Gogol's text, 

with unimportant cuts) . The opera Boris Godunof (after Pushkin) 


'The child with his nurse' (to appear shortly). 

'Yeremushka's Lullaby' (to appear shortly). 

First act of the opera Boris Godunof. 

1869 The opera Boris Godunof ^nhh^d. 

1870 'The Peep-show' (a pamphlet — published). 

'In the corner'. 

'With the doll' \^ , , 

CT-, . > rto appear shortly. 

Lvening prayer j ^^ j 

'The Cockchafer'. 

'Scherzino' (The Seamstress). 

Boris Godunof submitted to the management of the theatres, 

and rejected. 

1 87 1 New version oi Boris Godunof 

A comic opera on a Gogol subject planned. The notion led to 
starting work on a national historic music drama in which the 
Cossacks of the Volga appear. 

The only interesting things in this document are the few scraps 
of biographical information it contains. These will be referred to 



in due course. It may be noted here, however, that another 
reference to the projected comic opera on a Gogol subject occurs 
in a letter of 1872; but nothing further is known about what 
"the historical national music drama in which the Don Cossacks 
were to appear" was to be. Very tentatively, Andrei Rimsky- 
Korsakof suggests* that these lines refer to Pugatchevshchina 
(see infra, p. 193). 

The other catalogue which was sent to Stassof is dated 16 August 
1878; but, as it mentions no work composed later than 1874, 
Andrei Rimsky-Korsakof suggests, rightly, that it must have been 
compiled some four years earlier. Its only value is that of a 
biographical curiosity. Here is the translation: 


26 August '78, Petrograd. 

Opus I 
Kinderscherz (1859) 

Scherzo B flat major for orchestra (1859) 
Intermezzo (1861) 
Scherzino (1872) 

Opus 2 
The Destruction of Sennacherib (1867) \ ^, , 
Joshua (1866) j>Ghoral 

Opus ^ 
Hopak (1866) 

Gathering Mushrooms (1867) 
Yeremushka's Lullaby (1868) 
The Peasant's Lullaby (1865) 
The Orphan (1868) 
The He-Goat (1867) 

Opus 4 
The Ragamuffin (1868) 
The Seminarist (1866) 
Savishna (1866) 

Opus 5 
Night (1864) 
King Saul (1863) 
The Feast (1867) 
Jewish Song (1867) 
The Magpie (1867) 
A Child's Song (1868) 

Opus 6 



(Alhum-The Nursery) 
With Nanny 
In the corner 

The Cockchafer )- 1868-69 
Evening prayer 
With the doll 
Opus y 
An act of Gogol's Marriage ( 1 868) 

Opus 8 
The Classicist (1867) 
The Peep-show (1869) 

Opus g 
The opera Boris Godunof {i868-i8y2) 

Opus 10 
Scenes from the opera Mlada (not an opera of mine) : Glorifica- 
tion of Tchernobog (1873); March of the princes and priests 
(1873) ; Market scene 

Opus II 
Pictures from an Exhibition (1874 in memory of Hartmann) 

Opus 12 
Sunless, an album of six poems by Count Golenishchef-Kutuzof 


Separately : 
Studies for the opera Salammbo after Flaubert (1864- 1865) 
I'm riding to Yukka! (1873) 
The Old Behever's song (1874) 
Forgotten (after Vereshchagin, 1874) 
The Mound of Nettles (1874) 
Materials for the opera Khovanshchina (a national music drama, 


That's all I know. 



chapter ii 

Ancestry, Childhood, Early Youth 

Mussorgsky's ancestry and family — Childhood in Karevo — 

School years in Petersburg — Disastrous atmosphere and 

influences — Musical Petersburg in the 'fifties — Mussorgsky 

meets Dargomyjsky, Borodin, Balakiref and Cui 

THE genealogy of the Mussorgsky family, as established by 
Karatyghin^^ goes back to Roman Vassilievitch Monastyref, 
who lived in the fifteenth century and was descended from Prince 
Yury Feodorovitch of Smolensk, of the lineage of Rurik.* But 
the branch of the family to which he belonged had become 
impoverished, and long lost its nobiliary title. Roman Monastyref 
was the first to bear the surname Mussorga, which two generations 
later (that is, towards the middle of the sixteenth century) had 
become Mussorgsky, and in the course of time took, now and 
then, the forms Mussorgskoy, Musserskoy and Mussorsky. f 

Modest's great-grandfather, Grigory Grigorievitch, a rich 
landowner, was the first of the family to serve in the army (as 
officer in the Guards), thereby establishing a tradition which was 
followed by his two sons and was to determine the choice of a 
career for his great-grandson. His younger son, Alexei (born 
1758) served in the Preobrajensky Guards, a crack regiment 
founded by Peter the Great and enjoying many privileges. He 
had a son by a serf of his, Irene Egorovna, whom he married, 
legitimizing this son, Peter, in 1820. 

Peter, owing to the circumstances of his birth, was debarred 
from entering the army but was posthumously entered in the 
register of the nobility. He was well off, owning 27,000 acres of 
land in the Government of Pskof, and also a small estate in the 
Government of Yaroslaf. Retiring in 1822, he settled on his land, 
and, a few years later, married Julia Ivanovna Tchirikova, who 

* Rurik, a Variag (or Varangian) prince, ruler of Novgorod in the late ninth 
century. Descent from Rurik corresponds to descent from William the Conqueror. 

■j" Modest, until late in the 'sixties, preferred the form Mussorsky, which he occasion- 
ally used even afterwards. 



too belonged to a family of landowners. They had four sons. 
Two, born in 1833 and 1835 respectively, died in babyhood. 
The third was Philaret, born in 1836, and the fourth. Modest, 
who came into the world in the village of Karevo. 

The correct date of his birth, 9/21 March 1839, was not known 
until 191 1, when the text of his baptism certificate, discovered by 
B. Tiutchef, appeared in the Russian Musical Gazette. It said: 

Was born on 9 March, baptized on 13 March, Modest. His parents, 
of the village of Kajivo [for Karevo] the retired official, collegiate 
secretary, Peter Alexeief Mussorgsky, landowner, and his lawful wife, 
landowner, daughter of the government secretary Ivan Tchirikof, 
Julia Ivanovna, both belonging to the orthodox persuasion. The god- 
parents were: the landowner, government secretary, Ivan Ivanof, 
son of Tchirikof, of the village of Bogorodytsyn, and the widow of the 
landowner. Major Grigory Alexeief, Irene Gheorghievsk. The 
officiating priest was Alexander Naumof Serebenitsky of the church 
of the Birth of the Holy Virgin. Was present at the baptism, the clerk 
Timofei Yakovlef Babinin. 

The village of Karevo is in the district of Toropets, a region of 
vast plains and forests, south-west of the Valdai plateau, on the 
banks of Lake Jijitso, "on a picturesque hillock surrounded by 
great forests, in a luxuriant region teeming with wild animals 
and birds", Karatyghin says. ^® In 19 10, when he visited Karevo, 
the house in which Mussorgsky was born had been pulled down, 
but one wing of it had been rebuilt not far from its original 
location. Mussorgsky spent the first ten years of his life in these 
beautiful and peaceful surroundings, all redolent of ancient 
Russia. No information whatever is available as to those years, 
apart from that contained in the autobiography, so that all 
comments and additions are bound to be conjectural. 

We may surmise that his playmates included peasant children 
— possibly relations on his maternal grandmother's side. All his 
biographers in turn have pointed out that the atmosphere of the 
Russian countryside, with its old traditions and superstitions and 
close contact with the peasantry, must have exercised a great 
influence on the forming of his sensitiveness and mind. Karatyghin, 
recalling the fact that in the seventeenth century an envoy of the 
Streltsy (militia-men) to the people of Toropets in revolt had 
been drowned in Lake Jijitso, wonders whether the stories of 
those stormy times, which he must have heard in his childhood, 



did not sow the first seed of his interest in the history of past 
events and especially of those which provided the subject of his 
opera Khovanshchina. 

The autobiography mentions the impression created in his 
mind by the fairy tales which his nurse used to tell him. Was 
this, as he avers, the origin of his longing to express in music "le 
tout de rhomme", or is this assertion to be regarded as a mere 
poetic figment? Pierre d'Alheim^ has shrewdly defined the extent 
to which this order of tales is likely to act on the minds of Russian 
infants: "In the homes of the Russian gentry, children lived in a 
supernatural world which they loved and in which they believed. 
For them the Baba-Yaga, the witch who lived in a hut standing on 
hens' legs, Koshchei, the cruel, deathless giant, and Prince Ivan, 
the young hero who could raise boulders weighing a ton, were 
beings whose aspect and character stood definite and well known, 
who were always present and inspired love, friendship, terror, 
and hatred." 

But all this belonged to the domain of picturesque, merely 
superficial fancy, and is capable of suggesting descriptive, panto- 
mimic, graphic musical ideas, rather than ideas expressing the 
inner feelings and moods which are the main elements of "le 
tout de I'homme". Pantomimic and graphic evocations, as we shall 
see, play a big part in Mussorgsky's music, but not so the 
picturesque and fantastic elements brilliantly put to use by 
Glinka and other Russians, especially Rimsky-Korsakof. Apart 
from the delightful first number of his song-set The Nursery, which 
evokes a child delighted with the impressive tales told by his nurse, 
the only things of his inspired by fantastic subjects are a couple 
of piano pieces in the Pictures from an Exhibition and the tone- 
poem A Night on the Bare Mountain. The speech, and also the songs, 
of the people around him may have created, even at that early 
time, stronger, far more lasting impressions. "It was not in vain", 
he wrote in 1870 to his friend Nikolsky, "that in my childhood I 
loved to listen to the mujiks and tried my best to learn their songs". 
Later in fife he availed himself of every opportunity to stay in the 
heart of the countryside, observing the people, marking their 
aspect and manners and noting down folk-songs (whose chief 
interest for him lay in their racial or expressive idiosyncrasies) 
and vernacular inflexions. His chief preoccupation was to limn 
the characters he evoked in song or in opera accurately, and to 
express their feelings as directly and truly as possible. 



He and his brother Philaret received the education normally 
given to boys of their class, and were destined to a military 
career. Peter Mussorgsky, "who worshipped music", encouraged 
his son Modest's early disposition for piano playing and also 
(according to the autobiography) for extemporizing. The boy 
received his first piano lessons from his mother. Karatyghin 
informs us that Julia Mussorgsky is said to have been "fairly 
nimble at the piano, of a romantic, excitable, dreamy, affectionate 
disposition". She was also an indefatigable writer of mediocre 
verse. His second instructress was a German teacher. Musical 
parties used to take place in the home, and so, no doubt, he 
became acquainted with part of the drawing-room repertory of 
the period. At one of these parties, as he records, he played at the 
age of nine, a big concerto by Field. 

There is every reason to accept what he has to say of his early 
successes and later progress as a pianist. In fact, all the later 
information we have makes it clear that he had wonderful gifts 
in that direction. 

In August 1849, Peter Mussorgsky took his two sons to Peters- 
burg. Boys not being admitted to the School for Cadets of the 
Guards before the age of thirteen. Modest spent two years at the 
Peter-and-Paul School, which was run by Germans on German 
lines, and provided excellent methodical tuition. His father 
arranged for him to receive piano lessons from Anton Herke, a 
pupil of Henselt, and a brilliant virtuoso whose lessons, at the 
time, were in great request. Herke instructed him in all that con- 
cerned piano playing, and acquainted him with a good deal of 
German music, including, probably, Schumann's (in which, 
Stassof records, no other teacher in Petersburg was interested at 
the time) ; but he taught him, according to the testimonies of both 
Philaret and Kompaneisky, nothing about musical theory — 
not even the most elementary principles. 

These two years must have been thoroughly congenial to 
Modest, who was seeing a city for the first time in his life, and 
having experiences very different from his earlier ones in the 
segregated, patriarchal, indolent, non-intellectual atmosphere of 
his country home. He was of a studious, quiet, inquiring disposi- 
tion, and genuinely fond of music. His first public success — the 
playing of a Rondo by Herz at a charity function under the 
patronage of a lady of the aristocracy, and Herke's subsequent 
gift, by way of reward, of a copy of a Beethoven Sonata in A flat 



(whether Op. 26 or Op. no is not recorded) — must have made 
him feel very proud. 

This was in 1851. That same year, he left the Peter-and-Paul 
School for the Pension Komarof, which specialized in preparing 
candidates for the entrance examination at the School for Cadets. 
There existed, Findeisen says, ^^ a good many of these private 
institutions; they were expensive, but guaranteed success at the 
examination. This they could safely do, considering that the 
proprietors or teachers were members of the board of examiners. 
This easy way of securing commissions in the Guards for their 
sons was attractive to parents who could afford the expense. 
Komarof's charges, no doubt, were commensurate with the 
advantage he was able to offer. At the School for Cadets, the 
fees for tuition were 400 roubles per annum for pupils training for 
commissions in infantry regiments, and 450 if the goal was the 
cavalry. Parents, moreover, had to show that they would provide 
their sons with sufficient money to keep up their position. 

After a year with Komarof, Mussorgsky entered the School for 
Cadets. The description we have of conditions at this school are 
such as to make one shudder as one thinks of a boy of thirteen 
suddenly transferred there. The curriculum, apparently, included 
no physical training, and the pupils, outside school hours, used to 
indulge in reckless dissipation. The head of the school. General 
Sutgof, is said to have been a kindhearted, well-meaning man, 
who did his best to improve matters and instil into his young 
charges a sense of restraint and self-respect. But, according to 
Kompaneisky, he had not achieved much, and his views on such 
points were very much in keeping with Russian army usage : 

At the School for Cadets, Mussorgsky found the same feudal atmosphere 
as in his native countryside. Each cadet had a manservant, a serf, who 
was liable to be beaten by order of the Commander whenever he 
incurred his master's displeasure. The relations between junior and 
senior cadets were those of serf to master. The seniors styled themselves 
'honourable cornets', but the juniors were mere 'vandals'. Each 
'cornet' had a 'vandal' for his fag, whose duties included that of carrying 
his master pick-a-back to the wash-stand whenever ordered to do so. 
They regarded preparing lessons as beneath their dignity, and General 
Sutgof shared this view. All their dreams centred in the glory and 
grandeur of the Guardsman's uniform. All the time not taken up by 
the service was devoted to dancing, philandering, and getting drunk. 
General Sutgof had issued stern injunctions that his pupils, when 



drunk, should not return to the school on foot, and that they should 
never drink common vodka. But he felt proud when one of them, 
overcome with champagne, was brought back in a carriage and pair. 
Such was the institution in which Mussorgsky spent years of his youth, 
devoting so much time to studying German philosophy, history, and 
foreign languages that the General, who wished him well, used to say 
to him, "Afow cher, what kind of an officer WiW you make!" 

Mussorgsky continued his piano lessons with Herke until 1853, 
and also attended those which Herke gave to the General's 
daughter. He played a good deal, was fond of extemporizing, 
and belonged to the school choir. 

He had no idea of the rules of music [Kompaneisky says] , and was 
incapable of putting notes down on staved paper. He used to sing, in a 
fresh baritone voice, arias from Italian operas, but in accordance with 
the prescription of the bon ton, knew nothing whatever of the Russian 
composers — not even of Glinka and Dargomijsky. When he mentioned 
in his autobiography, that he acquired, under Father Krupsky's 
guidance, a thorough knowledge of old church music, orthodox and 
catholic, he was merely revealing that even at the time of writing, he 
knew little of these subjects. In my own schooldays (in 1866) Krupsky 
was still there. Being greatly interested in church music, I had many 
occasions to consult him and find out that his knowledge was but 

That Mussorgsky really learnt very little from Krupsky is 
confirmed by some anonymous recollections relating to this period 
which say that the good priest's influence on his pupils was very 
slight, and also by the following passage in the 'M.P.' letter of 
1 88 1 to the Russky Muzykalny Viestnik (see supra, p. 5): 

I showed Father Krupsky Stassof's article on Mussorgsky [in which 
portions of the autobiography had been used] and asked him for 
particulars of Mussorgsky's "thorough studies". He smiled and said 
that the boy, who sang in the school choir, had evinced interest in the 
composers whose music was used in church; whereupon he, Krupsky, 
had given him works by Bortniansky [i 751-1825] and even more 
recent composers to study. 

The austere church chants of old Russia, Findeisen remarks, 
were not included in the repertory of the school choir. 

He found among his schoolfellows a few budding music-lovers 
— one of them Michael Azantchevsky, later the head of the 



Petersburg Conservatoire. The musical talents which rendered 
him generally popular were not of a kind to foreshadow the future. 
He delighted his comrades by his singing, his extemporizations, 
and his playing of popular pieces. One wonders whether his 
repertory included the Beethoven sonata given to him by Herke; 
but he was ever ready to provide dance music — among which, 
no doubt, was the Torte-Enseigne Polka', inscribed to his fellow- 
cadets and published "to his shame, and with his father's help" 
(meaning, presumably, at his father's expense) in 1852. No copy 
of this youthful effort has ever been discovered. 

In 1853, Peter Mussorgsky died. Modest's prospects were in no 
way altered by this event, and we do not know how the loss 
affected him. No information is available on Peter Mussorgsky's 
character or on his relations with his sons, except that he seems to 
have been a kindhearted man, eager to do his best for his children. 

In the autumn of 1856, a year after his brother. Modest entered 
the Preobrajensky Regiment with the rank of ensign. It was at 
that time that the first photograph of him known so far was taken. 
This shows him standing, in full-dress uniform, looking very 
boyish (fourteen years old, rather than seventeen, in fact), un- 
sophisticated, earnest, and open, with thick, rather long, dark 
hair, a good broad forehead, frank eyes under almost frowning 
eyebrowSj a snub nose, a very big mouth, biggish ears, and a 
fairly heavy jaw. The attitude and expression suggest nothing of 
the inclination to pretentiousness which Borodin notes in the 
delightful pen-portrait he gave Stassof of him as seen when the 
two first met (in September or October 1856; Borodin was his 
senior by six years) : 

I had just been appointed an army doctor, and Mussorgsky was a 
newly hatched officer. Being on hospital duty we met in the common- 
room; and feeling bored and in need of human companionship, we 
started talking and forthwith found one another congenial. The same 
evening we were invited to the doctor-in-chief's home. Having a 
grown-up daughter, he often gave parties to which the officers on duty 
were asked. Mussorgsky was, at that time, a very callow, most elegant, 
perfectly contrived little officer: brand-new close fitting uniform, toes 
well turned out, hair well oiled and carefully smoothed out, hands 
shapely and well cared for. His manners were polished, aristocratic. 
He spoke rather through his teeth, and his carefully chosen words 
were interspersed with French phrases and rather laboured. He showed, 
in fact, signs of a slight pretentiousness; but also, quite unmistakably, 



of perfect breeding and education. He sat down at the piano, and, 
coquettishly raising his hands, started playing, deHcately and gracefully, 
bits of Trovatore and Traviata, the circle around him rapturously mur- 
muring the while "Charmant! Delicieux!" That season, I met him 
three or four times in all. Years elapsed before we met again. 

The atmosphere around Mussorgsky was in most respects as 
unwholesome as at the School for Cadets : 

The officers devoted as much time as possible to dancing, drinking, 
gambling, and having expedient affaires with wealthy ladies of the 
aristocracy, or, failing that, wives of wealthy merchants. The years 
Mussorgsky spent in the army had disastrous consequences. He not 
only lost his interest in reading and studying, but acquired a craving 
for drink. Later, while recognizing how very harmful those surroundings 
had been for him, he used to add: "But it could not have been other- 
wise in the Preobrajensky Guards 1" Another of the friends he made 
later, Nadejda Rimsky-Korsakof, records that "whereas he always 
enjoyed talking of his childhood in the country, he never spoke of his 
army years, obviously hating the very memory of them, and of the 
evil influences which had wrecked his health for ever.* " 

There can be no doubt that his experiences at the School for 
Cadets and in the army were primarily responsible for the dipso- 
mania which broke out later. There is no evidence that he acquired 
any vice other than a craving for alcohol. He found among his 
brother officers a few congenial companions, notably a certain 
Orfano, who sang; Orlof, who composed military marches; 
Nicholas Obolensky, who was a passable pianist, and to whom he 
inscribed a piano-piece 'Souvenir d'Enfance' (the manuscript 
bears the date i6 [28] October 1857); Grigory Demidof, who 
won appreciation in the 'sixties as a composer of drawing-room 
ballads; and Feodor Vanliarsky, who had the entree to musical 
circles, and with whom he formed an enduring friendship (in 
1877, he inscribed to him the song 'Not like thunder from 
heaven'). So, he may have felt reasonably happy, living with his 
mother and brother, leading what he must have regarded (if he 
ever gave a thought to the matter) as the normal life for one of 
his status, and nourishing, so far as can be known, no great artistic 
ambitions. He might have long continued perfectly content with 
his lot had not Vanliarsky introduced him to Dargomyjsky, whose 
home was a meeting place for musicians of all kinds. 

This introduction marked the turning point. Mussorgsky was 



suddenly brought into contact with a world unknown to him, with 
music lovers who took music very much in earnest and composers 
who were dreaming of high achievements. He underwent stimu- 
lating experiences in quick succession. Within a short time he 
became acquainted with Balakiref, Cesar Cui, and the brothers 
Stassof — Vladimir and Dimitri. For the first time, he was enabled 
to take stock of himself by comparing his own musical outlook 
and capacities with those of his new friends, under the influence 
of whom he developed a strong interest in all things musical and 
began to think of devoting himself to composition. 

Petersburg was not a promising field for a young Russian 
composer. The public was interested in Italian opera only. 
Glinka died on 15 February 1857. Fifteen years before, his 
admirable opera Ruslan and Liudmila, the first signal example of 
really Russian music, had failed owing to the indifference of the 
public and the hostility of Court circles. It was, as noted by 
Kompaneisky and many others, fashionable to look down on 
Russian music, and, in proportion as new developments took 
place on national lines, opposition was to grow stronger. 

But the worst was the absolute lack of facilities for composers 
to study technique. There were no schools (the Petersburg and 
Moscow Conservatoires were founded in 1862 and 1864 respec- 
tively), no competent teachers, not even an adequate supply of 
technical books. Glinka had gone abroad for tuition. Dargomyjsky, 
otherwise self-taught, had received useful advice from Glinka, 
who lent him the note-books in which he had jotted down 
instructions given to him by Dehn in Berlin. So, unavoidably, 
young musicians tended to associate, to pool what little knowledge 
they had, and to help one another make the best of circumstances. 

Dargomyjsky was, at that time, the only Russian composer of 
any standing. His house naturally became the meeting place of 
the musicians who had frequented Glinka's and also of their 
juniors. He enjoyed their society, and was interested in their 
ambitions. In 1859 he wrote to one of his friends: "You cannot 
imagine how happy I am in my little circle, whose members are 
few, but genuinely devoted to one another and to their art. We 
play Russian music assiduously, industriously, and without any 
quest of mere effect." 

He was already formulating the tenets of musical realism which 
Mussorgsky, later, was to make his own. It was in 1857 that he 
made, in a letter to Karmalina, the following often-quoted 



profession of faith: "My position as a composer is deplorable: 
most of our dilettanti and critics regard me as uninspired. They 
are creatures of routine, who want nothing but tunes fit to flatter 
their ears. I have no desire to debase music to the level of an 
amusement for their sake. I want the notes to express the words 
directly. I want truth." 

So Mussorgsky's words, "it was at the moment I became 
acquainted with Dargomyjsky that my musical life began", are 
quite true. But the tale of his relations — and also of those of his 
friends — with Dargomyjsky is not so simple as might appear in 
the Hght of the autobiography and the early hterature on the 

The facts of the matter are that Mussorgsky joined the circle 
at a moment when Dargomyjsky was held in high esteem by the 
young men who had already mustered around him. His early 
opera Esmeralda (the subject of which was taken from Victor 
Hugo's novel Notre-Dame de Paris) had fallen flat both in Moscow 
(1847) and in Petersburg (1851) ; but his Russalka, given at Peters- 
burg in 1855, although not supported by the public, had created 
a favourable impression — especially among progressively minded 
musicians. The dramatic and comic scenes in it, and especially 
the original and telling handling of the recitatives, were regarded 
as marking the dawn of a new era in Russian opera. But the 
atmosphere of the circle proved to be far from stimulating. Dargo- 
myjsky, fond of adulation, and smarting under a sense of injury 
owing to the scant success of his operas, lived surrounded by 
mediocre musicians, amateurs and professionals, who pandered 
to his taste for flattery. According to Yuri Arnold's Recollections 
(Moscow, 1891-93) the Russian music played at his parties was 
chiefly his own. He was also jealous of Glinka's fame and successes, 
and may have shown this feeling clearly enough to irritate un- 
compromising champions of Glinka such as Balakiref and the 
Stassof brothers. It is significant that Vladimir Stassof should 
have nicknamed the circle 'The Russian Invalids', and that at a 
later date Mussorgsky should have written to Balakiref, "the part 
of a pasha a la Dargomyjsky befits you ill". So, after a time the 
whole group, except Cui, ceased to frequent Dargomyjsky's 

There is nothing to show that his views on musical realism had 
impressed Mussorgsky at that early stage. No sign of realistic 
ambitions is to be found in the early letters, nor in the early songs 



and instrumental pieces. Maybe the notion of composing an 
opera on the subject of Victor Hugo's blood-curdHng Hans d^Islande 
was conceived under the influence of Dargomyjsky's Esmeralda. 
But it was, as Mussorgsky himself acknowledged, merely a 
childish vagary. 

After the withdrawal from Dargomyjsky's circle, his attitude to 
Dargomyjsky's music became contemptuous. Derogatory references 
to it occur in his letters to Balakiref as late as 1867. But, in the 
course of that year, a rapprochement took place, when Dargomyjsky 
had already started work on The Stone Guest (see infra, chapter 
VIII), a work in which the group— which by then had grown 
larger, and included Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakof among others 
— was profoundly interested. By then, however, Mussorgsky had 
progressed independently; as will be seen, many of his most charac- 
teristic songs were composed between 1864 and 1866. Nevertheless, 
the new line struck in The Stone Guest proved most stimulating to 
him. It corresponded to many of his own, still rather vague, 
aspirations. He learnt much from Dargomyjsky's methods and 
received much encouragement from him. It is to this later period 
that his tributes to Dargomyjsky in the autobiography, and in the 
inscription of the song 'Yeremushka's Lullaby' (1868), "to the 
great leader in the quest for musical truth", refer. 

The most important result of Mussorgsky's early contact with 
Dargomyjsky was that he met Balakiref. 

Mily Balakiref, then twenty years of age, was a born leader 
and educator. In his youth, spent in his native city of Nijny- 
Novgorod, he had shown a rare musical instinct, coupled with an 
infinite capacity for self-tuition, which had aroused the interest 
of Ulybyshef, a keen music lover who maintained a private 
orchestra and owned a fine musical library. He was engaged as 
assistant conductor to this orchestra, and so acquired much 
knowledge and practical experience. At the end of 1855, Ulybyshef 
took him to St. Petersburg, where his piano playing and earliest 
compositions won immediate recognition. He was introduced to 
Glinka, who predicted that "in time, he would become a second 
Glinka", and to Dargomyjsky, who was no less favourably im- 
pressed. By 1857, ^^ had already started giving advice to Cesar 
Cui, his senior by two years. Mussorgsky, having decided to tackle 
composition in earnest, quite naturally and indeed unavoidably, 
applied to him for tuition. 

It was for Mussorgsky — and was to be, a little later, for Borodin 



and Rimsky-Korsakof — a great piece of good fortune to find 
Balakiref at hand, not only capable of teaching, but eager to 
teach and encourage. There existed at the time in Russia no 
professional schools, and no other competent instructor could 
have been found, and, as we have observed, no adequate supply of 
text-books. With his knowledge, his infectious courage and 
enthusiasm, Balakiref was the very man of whom the budding 
Russian composers stood in need. He too had been handicapped 
by the lack of facihties for learning his craft. Surmounting many 
obstacles, he had fought his way through; and in turn he showed 
them the way to learn, as he had learnt: from practice and 

Rimsky-Korsakof, in his Memoirs, was to criticize his methods 
of tuition with the utmost severity, describing them as too em- 
pirical, inconsistent, and in most respects inadequate, and 
alleging, among other things, that "never having suffered from 
his lack of technical knowledge, he could not see that others might 
stand in need of such knowledge". 

There is no lack of evidence^ that Rimsky-Korsakof was 
mistaken on this last point, and very unfair to Balakiref. In fact, the 
pubhcation of the Memoirs (in 1909) was followed by a storm of 
protest throughout Russia. The best critics, and notably Findeisen, 
Karenin and Timofeief, agreed in describing the Memoirs as 
entirely subjective, and in pointing out that Rimsky-Korsakof 
had written them some thirty years after the event : so that short- 
ness of memory and the changes which had taken place in his 
own outlook had led him to be, quite unintentionally, inaccurate 
in his description of Balakiref and his circle, and deplorably to 
underrate the value to himself and to others of the young master's 
teaching and influence. Far from despising technique, or even 
theory (as late as 1878, he urged Mussorgsky to study harmony 
under Rimsky-Korsakof: see infra p. 196), Balakiref did his utmost 
to help his pupils master all branches of their craft. He turned 
their attention to the discipHne of instrumental forms, insisting 
that they should practise composing symphony movements, and 
making Beethoven's music, among others, the basis of a practical 
schooling which included the study of a wide range of master- 
pieces, ancient and modern. And so, while incHning to insist that 
they should follow every behest of his docilely (for he was, as he 
himself acknowledged, despotic in temperament), he taught them 
to think for themselves. 



"Being no theorist," he wrote to Stassof in 1881, "I was unable 
to teach Mussorgsky harmony as Rimsky-Korsakof was to teach it 
later. But I explained form to him. We used to play together all 
Beethoven's symphonies at the piano and also works by Schumann, 
Schubert, Glinka and others. I explained to him the technicalities 
of their structure, and made him analyse their form. So far as I can 
remember, I gave him but few paid lessons: somehow or other, 
they gradually turned into friendly conversations."^ 

Many years later, Balakiref wrote in reply to another enquiry : 
"The music we studied together consisted mainly of works by 
Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, 
Berlioz and Liszt. Mussorgsky had already become familiar, 
without my help, with the works of GUnka and Dargomyjsky " 
(Letter to M. D. Calvocoressi, 4 August 1906). 

Rimsky-Korsakof 's Memoirs also ascribe to Balakiref and his 
circle certain iconoclastic views on the German classics, on Chopin, 
and on Liszt. Again there is evidence to show that those views 
were not Balakiref 's own, but those of other members of the circle 
— as often as not, of a certain Nikolai Borozdin, a confirmed jester, 
and a composer of no importance whatsoever, whose orbit crossed 
that of Balakiref for a while. Even so, the question might arise how 
far those views may have contributed to Mussorgsky's later distaste 
for musical theory and for German methods of composition. But 
it is more than doubtful whether they had the slightest influence 
upon him. Indeed, all we know of him, and all we are able to 
surmise, shows that in no circumstances could he have developed 
otherwise than he did, and that he was not destined by nature to 
become a composer of instrumental music. 

Cesar Cui (born at Vilna in 1835) enjoyed the prestige not only 
of being in the army, and senior in rank to Mussorgsky, but of 
having received lessons from Moniuszko, a Polish composer of 
established reputation. So he must have made a certain impression 
upon the youngster. A few years later, he was to be appointed 
music critic of a leading Petersburg daily. Eventually, he became 
the self-appointed spokesman of the group, and was for a time 
regarded — quite undeservedly — as its leader jointly with Balakiref. 
He held views very similar to Dargomyjsky's, but was not capable 
of putting them into practice to any appreciable extent, his not 
very original talent being for lyrical rather than for dramatic 
music. He used to proclaim that with Beethoven, Schumann, 
Berlioz and Liszt the art of symphony had reached perfection, so 



that no further progress was possible, whereas dramatic music 
was still in a transitional stage, and that alone the new Russian 
school realized the right way to bring it to perfection. ■* 

The relations between the two soon became friendly. Mussorgsky 
was made welcome at Cui's home and also at that of his future 
parents-in-law. He inscribed a song to Cui's fiancee, Malvina 
Bamberg, joined in private performances of plays by Gogol and 
also (in 1859) of Cui's comic opera The Mandarin's Son, in which 
he took the main part, singing and acting with remarkable skill 
and verve. 

Cui's narrow and pedantic outlook must have jarred upon 
Mussorgsky from the first. In 1867, in a letter to Rimsky-Korsakof 
concerning the Night on the Bare Mountain, he wrote "I have used 
harmonies for which Cui would send me to the Conserva- 
toire". The story of their later relations is summed up as follows: 
"In the 'seventies* Cui began to display eclectic and academic 
tendencies ; and his criticism of the works of his comrades became 
censorious, at times even offensive, in tone. His notice of Boris 
Godunof in 1874 wounded Mussorgsky to the quick. But until then 
Mussorgsky continued to trust Cui 'stupidly and blindly' — 
Vladimir Stassof's words in a letter of August 1873 to his brother 

Vladimir Stassof, on the contrary, was to play an important 
part in Mussorgsky's Ufe and artistic evolution. But his influence 
at first was of the same very general, indefinite order. He was 
keenly interested in music, eager to help, advise, and champion 
Russian composers. He talked music abundantly and eloquently. 
He teemed with ideas and plans for descriptive symphonic works 
and for opera libretti, and was always ready to help composers 
with suggestions and information, which often proved most 
valuable. In his obituary of Mussorgsky he wrote: "I first met him 
in 1857, and forthwith we became great friends". He may have 
liked him from the first — most people could not help doing so, 
then and later — but he had, at first, no high opinion of his mind 
and musicianship. In 1863, that is, after six years of Triendship', 
he wrote to Balakiref: "I have no use whatever for Mussorgsky. 
All in him is flabby and dull. He is, I think, a perfect idiot. Were 
he left to his own devices and no longer under your strict super- 
vision, he would soon run to seed as all the others have done. 

* Even in the early days Cui was not capable of directing or advising others, 
except in terms of vague generalities. 



There is nothing in him."^^ To which Balakiref rephed : "Yes, 
Mussorgsky is httle short of an idiot."^^ 

It was only in the late 'sixties that Stassof changed his mind. 
Then he became Mussorgsky's warmest admirer and most active 
champion. He was to be the only one of the group to realize the 
composer's exceptional greatness, to understand the peculiarities 
of his artistic outlook, and to encourage him — maybe, at times, 
rather uncritically. 



1857— 1862 

Mussorgsky becomes Balakiref^s pupil — Studies and exercises 
— First compositions — Illness — Resigns his commission to 
become a composer — Visits to Moscow — Morbid crisis — 
Mussorgsky at twenty — New outbreak of illness — His 
prospects altered after the liberation of the serfs — Cure and 
stay in the country — His ideas and plans 

SUCH were the conditions under which Mussorgsky, at the age 
of seventeen, set about the task of becoming a composer. A callow 
amateur, he knew nothing whatever about theory and technique. 
He had no clear idea of what he wanted to do in music, no par- 
ticular leaning towards any order of composition, nor, so far as 
can be ascertained, any natural facility for composing. An 
obscure, irresistible instinct drove him towards a goal of whose 
nature he had not the faintest inkling. For guidance, he relied 
entirely on Balakiref. 

Balakiref's interests centred in instrumental music, and his 
method of teaching tended to encourage impulsiveness rather 
than methodical discipline; it was, one French critic has pointed 
out, suitable for men of genius only. Mussorgsky's genius turned 
out to be of a particularly impetuous, wayward order. It is 
doubtful whether the ordinary rule-of-thumb methods of tuition 
practised at the time would have been more beneficial to him. 
We may imagine that if Balakiref's mind had been more flexible, 
if he had been capable of seeing things from his pupil's point of 
view, he might have helped him better. But, once again, 
Mussorgsky in those early days had no definite point of view, and 
nobody could have foreseen in which direction his future lay. 
By the time his individuality began to assert itself — seven or 
eight years later — Balakiref's influence on him was very much 
on the wane ; and it had become obvious that the two would never 
see eye to eye. 

The Russian critic Igor Gliebof has said that "Mussorgsky's 
greatest misfortune was that he came into the world half a century 



too early. The technique he would have required in order to 
achieve his ends to the full had not yet come into being."^^ Nor 
had methods of tuition proceeded beyond what Donald Tovey 
calls "the accepted criterion of correctness". The notion that the 
ideal teacher is "not an infallible dictator, but one who places 
himself in the midst of his pupils, seeks diligently, and is sometimes 
rewarded by finding" (Arnold Schonberg, in his Treatise of 
Harmony) belongs to a much later period. Balakiref, although he 
inclined to be dictatorial, came closer to this ideal than any of his 
contemporaries. He was intolerant, but certainly not superstitious 
in the matter of obeying conventional rules : for instance, he was 
the first composer to dare start a composition in one key and finish 
it in another {Tamara — see infra, chapter XVIII). 

Mussorgsky, on the other hand, was no easy pupil to deal with, 
even at that early period. Yet Balakiref succeeded in persuading 
him to work more or less methodically, and in inspiring him with 
a desire to acquire the art of "writing decently". Mussorgsky's 
letters to his teacher teem with expressions of affection and trust ; 
and they show that Balakiref returned the affection, if not the 
trust. Balakiref, in fact, never ceased to regard Mussorgsky as 
weak-minded, and misguided in musical matters. Mussorgsky, 
in turn, came to lose confidence in him as a guide. But he remained 
deeply grateful to him to the end; and the tribute he paid to him 
in the autobiography was a thoroughly genuine expression of his 
actual feelings. 

The lessons began in 1857. During the following twelve months 
Mussorgsky divided his energies between the work prescribed 
by Balakiref and composition according to plans of his own, the 
most important of which was incidental music for Sophocles' 
tragedy CEdipus Rex in Shistakof 's Russian translation (published 
in 1852).* He was to carry on with this ambitious undertaking at 
intervals until 1861, when he finally gave it up. 

The first of his letters to Balakiref (16 December 1858) deals 
with the purchase of a piano selected by Balakiref. The next day 
he wrote : 

Thank Heaven, the fate of the piano is settled. It will be delivered 
to-morrow. A thousand thanks for selecting such a good one. La machine 
est parfaitement solide. To-day I thumped the keyboard so lustily that 
my fingertips are aching — all needles and pins. But the machine is 
unhurt, except that one string has gone wrong. For Wednesday I shall 
* Actually an opera based on Ozerof 's play QSdipus at Athens — Ed. 



procure Beethoven's second Symphony, to which will befall the honour 
of inaugurating the instrument. 

A few weeks later (25 February 1858) a first sign of discourage- 
ment crops up: 

To my great shame I must confess that the Allegro is not yet ready. 
So, reluctantly, I defer to your wish that I should write if I happened 
not to have finished in time this Allegro, which bores me terribly. 
However, I do not despair : I hope to come to you within a week, and 
try out my task on your piano. I am for the time being overcome by 
laziness, by a sluggishness which I simply cannot shake off. No, nothing 
in the world would induce me to write Eastern music: it is all snares 
and pitfalls. Au revoir. This letter starts gloomily, and ends stupidly. 

No trace remains of the Allegro in question. It was, it would 
seem, a mere exercise prescribed by Balakiref. The remark on 
Eastern music is difficult to explain. Maybe Balakiref had sug- 
gested that Mussorgsky should use Eastern themes in the Allegro. 
Andrei Rimsky-Korsakof, however, holds that it refers to the 
introduction to (Edipus which Mussorgsky finished shortly after- 
wards. Other remarks of his on Eastern music were recorded by 
Borodin and Kompaneisky. At times, however, he did — as will 
be seen — write Eastern music. 

A letter wrongly dated Tuesday, 8 June, but obviously written, 
Andrei Rimsky-Korsakof points out, on Tuesday 8 July (the post- 
mark bears the date 12 July), mentions the introduction to 
(Edipus, work on a piano sonata, and also matters unconnected 
with music. It is the earliest document providing indications of 
noteworthy character traits : for instance, of his dislike for loose 
talk and coarse jokes. 

Yesterday, at the Stassofs, I had the pleasure of reading your letter to 
them from Moscow. Your description of the Kremlin stirred my 
imagination deeply. I thank you for it. Five minutes of dreams induced 
by it gave me inexpressible delight — indeed, the whole letter delighted 
me. Nothing to tell you about myself: same work, same amusements. 
I am about to leave for the country for the wedding [his brother's], 
I have begun a Sonata in E flat major. I shall see it through somehow 
or other. I'll try to do the job well. I intend to start with a little intro- 
duction in B flat, and pass on to the Allegro by means of a pedal-point. 
Then, I am at work on the Scherzo; and, in my leisure hours, on prac- 
tical exercises in harmony. I am terribly eager to learn the art of correct 




My brother and I played Schumann's B flat and C major Symphonies. 
We enjoyed them very much. He is good at sight-reading. Yesterday 
Stassof advised me, on the marriage day, to inspect the bride under the 
corset. I protested, and a two-hour discourse on privy parts ensued 
... I was so bored! I played the Introduction (Overture) to (Edipus, 
and also a few themes I intend to use in the work. Stassof seemed 
pleased with it all — very gratifying. I shall write to you from Tikhvin. 
Excuse my bad handwriting. I have been rather out of sorts all the 

Mussorgsky did not think of telling Balakiref that three days 
before — on 5/17 July — he had resigned his commission in order 
to be able to devote his whole time to music. He had just been 
attached to a battalion stationed at Tsarskaya-Slavianka — not 
very far from St. Petersburg, yet far enough to make it impossible 
to continue living with his family and keeping up his daily relations 
with his musical friends, and especially with Balakiref. Vladimir 
Stassof had vainly tried to dissuade him. "Lermontof ", he told 
him, "was able to devote as much time as he wished to poetry 
without giving up his army career." To which Mussorgsky replied: 
"I am not Lermontof. What may have suited him could not suit 

The indisposition alluded to in the letter was the nervous 
breakdown which Mussorgsky's autobiographical notes (see 
supra, p. 8) mention as having taken place in 1859. It was serious 
enough for him to be sent to Tikhvin to take the waters. 

Shortly after his return to town he wrote to Balakiref, who was 
then at Nijny Novgorod: 

My brother and I thoroughly enjoyed our stay in the country. Popular 
rejoicings took place, most successfully, on the day of the wedding. 
And I decided to compose the Sonata in E flat major and inscribe it to 
the young couple. I am at work on a Sonata in F sharp minor, very 
simple, and I have composed some songs. I have been reading Gluck's 
Alceste, Iphigenie en Aulide and Armide; and also Cinna.^ 

To-day I am finishing reading Mozart's Requiem. I played the 
Beethoven sonatas which I do not yet know. I love the Quasi Fantasia. 
My mind is wrapped in (Edipus. As I wish, dearest Mily, to inscribe 
this work to you, I am devoting much thought to it. I may be going to 
Murom at the end of August. Then I shall not be very far from you; 
and if you stay over there until mid-September, we might return to 
Petersburg together. I too wish to see Moscow and the Volga, and to 
visit Vladimir. 

* Which of the operas of ihat name he refers to is not known. 


1857- i862 

During my leisure hours, I am translating Lavater's letters on the 
condition of the soul after death — a fascinating subject, about which 
I have always dreamt. He says that after death the soul is able to 
transmit its thought to a living being endowed with clairvoyance, thus 
enabling this being to understand where the soul in question is. Just 
think of those relations between souls ! I expect you will read it all in 
my translation. 

All the time I am thinking, thinking, of many relevant things. 
Plans teem in my mind. If they could materialize it would be splendid. 
I'll tell you all about them when I see you. I have a lot of writing to do 
just now, and I fear my letters may not be quite to your liking. I have 
not yet acquired the capacity to write relevantly, and frivolous chatter 
soon becomes wearisome. 

Later, he was to give Balakiref further particulars of his illness 
and mental condition during that summer, acknowledging that 
he had, at the time, deliberately understated matters in order not 
to distress him. The crisis, however, was short. And during the 
following months he was buoyant and active. 

Of the sonatas he mentions in the above letter nothing further 
is known. His output for the year consisted of two songs, both of a 
conventional order : one a setting of Heine's 'Du meines Herzens 
Sehnsucht', the other Tray tell me, fair maiden' to Russian words; 
the Introduction to (Edipus; a Scherzo in B flat major, orchestrated 
with Balakiref 's help; another in C sharp minor, for piano; and 
piano arrangements of a couple of compositions by Glinka. 

It was in October 1858 that he made his debut as an amateur 
actor at a party at Cui's house. And a curious little document 
dated 25 December 1858 — very possibly a mere memento of some 
bit of Christmas fun — suggests that he may, at that early date, 
have conceived (or been given) the notion of composing an opera 
on the subject of Gogol's tale ' St. John's Night'. It consists of 
one sheet of paper, and runs as follows: " Programme of the 
opera St. John^s Night, in three acts, after the tale by Gogol, written 
by P. Boborykin, in the presence and with the help of Modest 
Mussorgsky, Eugen Mussorgsky* and Vassily."}" Witness to the 
proceedings: Mily Balakiref."* 

The temple scene in CEdipus was finished on 23 January 1859, 
in a draft for double choir with piano accompaniment. Apart 

* Philaret was sometimes called thus. 

t Who 'Vassily' was is not known. Mussorgsky, a few months later, thought of 
composing an opera on Pissemsky's tale 'The Liesky' (The Goblin) .' Neither scheme 
was followed up. They may have helped, in a measure, to turn his thoughts to 
Russian subjects. 



from that, the first few months of the year were uneventful. A 
letter to Balakiref of 7 January registers the first wound to 
Mussorgsky's vanity: "I am angry with you and Gui because you 
brushed my polka aside". Was this the Torte-Enseigne Polka' 
of 1852, belatedly exhibited, or a later one, no trace of which 
remains? Impossible to tell. Mussorgsky went on, sententiously: 
"Of course it is so insignificant as not to be worth a second thought. 
In my opinion, polkas, waltzes, and dance music generally are 
mere pigmies." 

At the beginning of May, Mussorgsky started on a long journey 
through Russia. He went first to Gliebovo, near Moscow, on a 
visit to his friends, Stepan Shilovsky and his wife Maria. He was 
an officer and a wealthy landowner; and she a very attractive 
society woman and amateur singer.* There was in their house a 
private stage on which whole operas used to be performed — 
often under Constantine Liadof, the conductor of the Petersburg 
Marinsky Theatre. Mussorgsky (who is said to have been more 
or less strongly attracted by his hostess's charms) spent a happy 
time there, after which he went to Moscow. On 23 June he wrote 
to Balakiref: 

At last I have seen Moscow. Even as I entered the city, I noticed how 
original it all was, how redolent of olden times the church spires were. 
The delightful Red Gate fascinated me. And the Kremlin. The wonder- 
ful Kremlin! I approached it with instinctive awe. The Red Square, 
the scene of so many memorable convulsions, is not seen at its best 
when viewed from the left — that is, from the Gostinny Dvor [i.e. the 
Bazaar]. But St. Basil the Blessed, and the Kremlin walls make one 
forget all imperfections: there we have sacred antiquity indeed! My 
impressions of St. Basil were so pleasant, and at the same time so strange, 
that it seemed to me I was beholding a procession of boyars in long 
robes and high fur bonnets. Passing the Saviour's Gate, I bared my 
head. I like this old custom. 

The New Palace is splendid. The best hall in it is the Faceted Hall, 
where the Patriarch Nikon among others stood trial. And the Cathedral 
of the Assumption, that of the Archangels, the Church of Our Saviour, 
these other grand monuments of the past! In the Cathedral of the 
Archangels, I gazed reverently upon the tombs: those of Ivan III, of 
Dimitri Donskoy, and of the Romanofs. These last made me think of 
A Life for the Tsar, and instinctively I lingered by them. I ascended 

* "She was very popular in Moscow and Petersburg society during the 'forties 
and 'fifties. She had studied under Dargomyjsky, and composed a few ballads. 
Tchaikovsky alludes to her stormy past."* 


1857- i862 

the tower 'Ivan the Great' from the top of which I had a wonderful 
view. Roving through the streets I remembered the dictum "All 
Muscovites bear a distinctive hall-mark". This is certainly true of the 
common people. Nowhere else in the world could beggars and rogues 
of the same kind be found. They have a strange demeanour, a nimble- 
ness of motion that struck me particularly. In short, I feel as if I had 
been carried into a new world, the world of yore — an unclean one, 
but one which nevertheless impresses me most favourably. You know 
I was a cosmopolitan; now I feel reborn, and quite close to all that is 
Russian. If anybody were to deal with Russia unceremoniously, I 
should deplore it: for I am beginning to love her. By the way, I was 
forgetting: in the Hall of Armours, is Tsar Alexei Mikhailovitch's 
carriage — a huge affair, built abroad, inside which is an easy chair of 
the European kind (a sort oi porte-chaise) . Looking at it, I had a vision 
of the Tsar sitting there and giving orders to the generals summoned 
from Little-Russia. 

These clear and strong impressions; this sudden feeling of 
being a Russian and loving Russia; this capacity to observe and 
capture the characteristic features of the people, unquestionably 
foretoken the spirit of Mussorgsky's mature work: of the wonderful 
songs which so tellingly describe the human beings they evoke, 
of Boris Godunof and Khovanshchina. Already he has got hold of the 
setting and atmosphere of these two masterpieces: the nation's 
part is to him a live reality. But the germ was to mature slowly. 
He was barely twenty, and not anywhere near finding himself. 
He lacked experience and had not acquired the capacity to con- 
centrate on work. If he inclined to probe and analyse his feelings 
and thoughts, it was under the influence of vague, confused 
musings rather than with the purpose of elaborating materials 
suitable for artistic creation and apt to stimulate the creative 
faculty within him. 

How far he was from having found himself is shown by his 
Tmpromptu passionne (in memory of Beltof and Liuba)' inspired 
by Herzen's novel Who is to blame? — very popular at the time — 
in which a kiss given by the heroine, Liuba, to the disillusioned 
hero, Beltof, reawakens in him the desire to live, but really leads 
to the supreme disenchantment, because Liuba can never be his. 
It is a pretty, but immature, quite unoriginal little ' Reverie' 
in Schumannesque style.* It was the first work of Mussorgsky 

* It was published, edited by Karatyghin, in 191 1. The original manuscript is 
in the Leningrad public library. A copy of it belonging to the publisher, Bessel, bears 
in Rimsky-Korsakof's handwriting the remark, "How very faulty and unintelligible!" 



which he inscribed to his dear friend Nadejda Opotchinina (see 
infra, chapter IV) so we may surmise that at that time he did not 
regard it as insignificant. His other compositions of 1 859 were two 
songs, 'The Merry Hour' and 'The leaves rustled sadly'; and 
'Kinderscherz ' for piano.* He also outlined, in the autumn, a 
'Shamyl's March' for soli, chorus and orchestra (the text in the 
Georgian language) in honour of a famous Caucasian chief whose 
surrender to the Russian forces was one of the great events of the 

The 'Impromptu passionne' was composed in October. That 
same month Mussorgsky, after a discussion on matters of religious 
doctrine (and also, probably, on more personal matters) with 
Balakiref wrote to him, first a letter replying to certain of his 
contentions with regard to religion, and then the next day 
(19 October) : 

You have put forth two suppositions concerning me. Let us first 
deal with the matter of my mysticism or, rather, as you put it, my 
mystical moods. As you know, I was, two years ago, or even more 
recently, very ill.j My trouble was mysticism, coupled with cynical 
thoughts about the Almighty. I suffered terribly in the country, and 
things became even worse after my return to town. I succeeded in 
hiding this from you, but you must have noticed the repercussions of 
it on my music. J I suffered cruelly, and became morbidly sensitive. 
Then — an effect, no doubt, of distractions or of the fantastic dreams 
I indulged in — for a long period this mysticism subsided. And, having 
got into my right mind again, I took steps to do away with it entirely. 
Of late, I have been striving hard to conquer the obsession, and have 
partially succeeded. By now, I have proceeded far away from mysticism, 
and, I hope, for good ; it is a frame of mind incompatible with moral 

With regard to my attitude to you, I must explain all that happened 
since we first met. At the very outset, I acknowledged your superiority. 
I saw how much clearer and finer than mine your ideas were. I may, 
at times, have grown angry with myself or with you, but in my heart 
I knew that you were in the right : which shows that vanity alone led 
me to be obstinate in my relations or discussions with you. I am 

* Mussorgsky mentions this piece as composed in i860 (see infra p. 39) : but the 
earHest of several autograph manuscripts of it — which bears the title 'Ugolki' (Puss 
in the corner) is dated 26 September 1859. 

t In point of fact it was in 1858: see supra, p. 30. 

% "This remark", Andrei Rimsky-Korsakof says,* "may refer to compositions of 
1858 which have not been preserved" — possibly the Sonatas in E flat major and 
F sharp minor, among others. 



greatly indebted to you, Mily, because you succeeded so well in 
awakening me from my torpor. And later, I came to understand you 
thoroughly, finding in you, among other things, the echo, and at times, 
the very germ, of my own thoughts. Our recent relations have brought 
you so very close to me, that now I trust you in all things. The part of 
a pasha a la Dargomyjsky is too puny and contemptible to be ascribed 
to you and is, indeed, alien to you. Our discussion the other day 
originated not in my puerility, but in a malevolence which gets the 
better of me sometimes — a morbid product of my mind, and the effect 
of physical causes. I acknowledge that causes of that kind have affected 
me: but not so mysticism. Thanks to your affectionate and charming 
letter, I shall be able to make mightier efforts to cast all that filth 
far away from me. 

I am reading books on geology. Most interesting. Fancy: Berlin is 
built upon a soil consisting entirely of infusoria, masses of them still 
alive ! 

There is something very lovable in Mussorgsky's frank acknow- 
ledgment of his faults, and something pathetic in his earnest, 
though rather childish attempts at judicial self-analysis, his 
endeavours to take himself in hand. It is an open question whether 
his nervous system was undermined owing to his earlier periods of 
hard drinking; but there is no indication that he continued to 
drink during these first years of his musical career. If so, he would 
probably have told Balakiref quite frankly: for in his letters to 
him there is no sign of reticence. The sentence about geology may 
be regarded as characteristic of Mussorgsky's 'studies' of science 
— and also philosophy. 

Borodin met Mussorgsky again in the autumn of that year, at 
a party. 

He had grown far more virile, and was beginning to put on flesh, 
and nothing in his aspect recalled the quondam officer. His attire, 
his manners were as dainty as ever, but no trace of foppishness remained. 
We were introduced to one another, but recognized each other at once. 
He told me he had resigned his commission, because "he was devoting 
himself exclusively to music, and to carry on with military service and 
art jointly was difficult". We started talking music. I was, at that 
time, a keen admirer of Mendelssohn, and knew practically nothing of 
Schumann. He, having already joined Balakiref's circle, lived in an 
atmosphere of musical innovations of which I had not the faintest idea. 
Our host suggested that he and I should play Mendelssohn's A minor 
Symphony together. Mussorgsky made a wry face, but agreed, on the 
understanding that he would be let off the slow movement, "which", 
he said, "was not in the least symphonic, but just a 'song without 



words' or something of the kind, transcribed for the orchestra". We 
played the first movement and the scherzo. Then he began to talk with 
enthusiasm of Schumann's symphonies which I did not know. He 
played bits from the one in E flat major. When he had reached the 
middle part, he stopped, saying: "Now begins the musical mathe- 
matics'*. All this was new to me and delighted me. Seeing that I was 
greatly interested, he played something else, also new to me. He 
informed me that he too composed music, and started playing to me a 
Scherzo of his [probably that in B flat.] Coming to the trio, he muttered 
between his teeth: "There you are: Eastern stuff'!" I was thoroughly 
amazed at these unaccustomed musical elements, whose existence I 
had not suspected before. I cannot say that I really liked them then 
and there : their novelty rather perplexed me. And I must confess that 
his professed intention of devoting himself to music left me sceptical 
at first. I thought it was a bit of boasting. But having heard his 
Scherzo, I wondered : shall I believe it or not ? 

This pen-portrait does not suggest ill health or nervous dis- 
order; nor does the information provided by Sofia Fortunato 
(185 1 -1929; nee Stassova, Vladimir Stassof's daughter) writing, 
it is true, from memory sixty-odd years after the event. The 
greater part of her recollections, it will be noticed, refer to a later 

My acquaintance with him began towards the end of the 'fifties. 
He had just resigned his commission and resumed civilian garb. He 
was of medium height, still quite slim, with small hands and feet, 
dark wavy hair, very elegant and well groomed. The head was peculiar, 
biggish; the face biggish too, with big, bright, slightly bulging eyes, 
their brightness enhanced by the contrasting dark complexion and 
dark hair and beard. His manners were gentle and refined. Everything 
in him betokened breeding and refinement. I repeat the word, because 
it characterizes him most appropriately. When he came to our home, 
we children were always eager to listen to his polished, flowing talk. 
All of us had the impression that he held his own with the most 
progressive and enlightened of the people who used to come to our 
house. My father and our uncles were leaders of progressive thinking, 
and their circle consisted exclusively of progressively minded people. 
To Mussorgsky, very young, very live and eager, such a circle was 
what water is to a mill-wheel. He took his place in it, diffidently at 
first, then boldly, and was soon given full privileges of membership. 
Then a time came when the circle's interest began to centre in music. 
This led to his playing a leading part in it. Although but a young child, 
I was deeply impressed by his personality. He, who seemed at first 



sight so brilliant and shallow, would stir the deepest feelings and 
thoughts with his music and his profound readings whether the music 
he sang or played was his own or not. How wonderful it was when 
all those distinguished visitors introduced their new compositions'. 
Heated debates often followed. Then Mussorgsky would stand his 
ground, never conceding a point, never displaying any vanity, never 
uttering a rude, or even a sharp, word. Few artists are as capable as 
he was of seeing other people's point of view while holding such strong 
views themselves. 

A photograph taken either in 1859 or a little earlier shows 
Mussorgsky in civilian clothes, still very slim and beardless, 
standing by a piece of studio furniture (complete with vase) 
beside which his brother Philaret, still in uniform, is sitting. His 
aspect is hale, virile and simple. He appears very much at ease, 
wearing a humorous, slightly sardonic expression. The chin, 
which in all later portraits is hidden by the beard, is good: the 
mouth very big. The eyes seem neither big nor bulging. Other- 
wise the photograph confirms Borodin's description, and also — 
so far as it applies to Mussorgsky in 1859 — Sofia Fortunato's. 

On II January i860, Mussorgsky made his public debut as a 
composer: his Scherzo in B flat was given at a concert of the 
Russian Musical Society, Anton Rubinstein conducting. He owed 
this first opportunity not to Rubinstein, as stated in the autobio- 
graphy, but to the recommendation of Dimitri Stassof, one of the 
founders of the Society. The Scherzo was well received. Serof, 
the composer, who was also a critic, praised it in the St. Petersburg 
Musical and Theatrical Messenger. 

So, things were beginning to look really hopeful. Unfortunately, 
a new outburst of illness soon followed. On 10 February 
Mussorgsky wrote to Balakiref : 

Thank Heaven, I am beginning to recover after cruel, very cruel 
sufferings physical and mental. You remember, dear friend, that one 
day, two years ago, after we had been reading Manfred, I was electrified 
by the sufferings of that lofty mind, and said to you: 'T wish I were a 
Manfred!" (I was very much a child then). Well, apparently. Fate 
had decided to grant me my wish. I became literally "Manfredized". 
My mind killed my body. Now I must resort to all kinds of antidotes. 
Dear Mily, I know you love me. For God's sake, in our talks, strive 
to keep me in hand and do not let me collapse. I am compelled to 
give up, for a time, my musical occupations and all intellectual strain 
in order to get better. My recipe is : All for the sake of physical welfare, 



even if the mental side has to be sacrificed. I know the origin of my 
nervous disorder : it was not onanism only. The main causes are youth, 
inordinate excitability, a fierce longing to know everything, excessive 
indulgence in self-criticism, and an idealism so excessive that my 
dreams materialize in images and actions. I am barely twenty, my 
physique is not sufficiently developed to keep pace with my impetuous 
spirit, while this spirit saps my bodily strength. Distractions, peace so 
far as possible, bathing and gymnastics ought to save me. 

To-day my brother and I went to see the ballet Pdquerette, a charming 
one, with many pretty scenes. But the music, Mily, Pugni's music! It is 
terrible, really terrible ! The ballet produced a strange impression upon 
me. I felt unwell during the performance. As soon as I got home I had 
to seek my bed. Dreams came to me, very oppressive, but so intoxi- 
cating, and inducing in me so sweet a passivity, that I felt I could 
easily slip away into death. 

This, fortunately, marked the end of my ordeal. Now I am better, 
or, at least, quite at peace. My reason for writing to you was not a 
longing to confess: I was asked to invite you to dinner with us all on 
Saturday. But, having taken pen in hand, and finding myself thinking 
affectionately of you, involuntarily I have let myself go. 

Obviously, he had been going through a violent pubescence 
crisis — maybe not the first, although we have no record of an 
earlier one. The problem of his sexual disposition and attitude to 
sex remains shrouded in mystery. The scanty data available will 
be surveyed presently. The above account shows that once again 
he overcame the attack (of which pubescence is unlikely to have 
been the only cause) quickly; and that his notions of the proper 
way towards a complete recovery were sound enough. 

The first token of his recovery (a temporary one, unfortunately) 
was a remodelling of the temple scene in (Edipus, which he in- 
scribed to Balakiref. The manuscript is dated i March. From 
May to August he stayed at the Shilovskys' home at Gliebovo. 
Most of the time he was ill and unable, he explained to Balakiref, 
to do much work. 

But [he continued] I collected materials which I shall need later. 
(Edipus and the little Sonata have progressed. The Sonata is nearly 
finished: and to (Edipus I have added two choral numbers: Andante, 
B flat minor and Allegro, E flat major. I have also been commissioned 
to do a very interesting piece of work: to be finished by next summer: 
a whole act on the Bare Mountain (from Mengden's drama The 
Witch) a witches' sabbath, various episodes of wizardry, a triumphal 
march of all this scum, and, by way of finale, the glorification of the 


1857 - i862 

sabbath. The Hbretto is very good. I have a few ideas; and I may turn 
out something quite good. I have also done a few small things 'Lord of 
my days' which I regard as quite satisfactory,* and 'Kinderscherz'. 

You will rejoice to hear of the change which has taken place 
within me, and which, for sure, is reflected in my music. My mind is 
strong, I have turned my thoughts to realities, my youthful fire has 
cooled down and of mysticism no trace remains. My last mystical 
composition is the B flat minor chorus for (Edipus. I am, thank God, 
thoroughly cured. I am setting all my little musical trespasses in order. 
A new period of my musical life has begun. 

And, indeed, he was to enjoy a spell of good health, mental and 
physical. A letter, of 31 December, i860 (unpublished),* from 
Balakiref to a friend says: "Mussorgsky looks thoroughly fit and 
happy. He has composed an Allegro, | and he feels that he has 
already done quite a lot for art in general, and Russian art in 

The " commission " which Mussorgsky had received (pre- 
sumably from the author of The Witch himself, of whom nothing is 
known except Mussorgsky's mention of him) must have awakened 
high hopesln his heart, or at least made him feel that the world 
at large was beginning to take him seriously as a composer. 
Nothing came of it, however, except, years later, the tone-poem, 
A Night on the Bare Mountain. 

Then, on 9 November, he informed Balakiref that Dimitri 
Stassof had been able to arrange for a performance of a chorus 
from (Edipus at the Russian Music Society, but that he himself, 
owing to the Committee's lack of enthusiasm, had decided to 
withdraw the work: "Stassof told me that they wish me to attend 
a rehearsal, and if after that I decide that the chorus can be per- 
formed publicly, it will be performed. Without showing anything 
of my feelings, I replied that the chorus, agitato^ being very short, 
would not be eflfective unless preceded by the Andante. So I 
asked that my manuscript be returned. Why should that pack of 
idiots have the cheek to teach me my business? I am, moreover, 
delighted to have avoided a clash with Rubinstein. I am sure you 
will approve." 

* This has not been preserved. 

t The Allegro in question — a mere exercise in composition which, played at 
Balakiref 's home the following year, pleased both him and Rimsky-Korsakof (who 
had just joined the circle) — is preserved in autograph rough draft for piano duet. 
The manuscript is dated 8 March i860, and bears the odd note, in Mussorgsky's 
handwriting "I [in the masculine] have taken a husband"— probably a relic of 
some mild joke or incident. 



Throughout his Hfe this was his instinctive attitude to criticism 
from people whom he did not regard (at least temporarily) as 
worth bothering about. Later, he became quick to take umbrage 
— at times quite justifiably — at criticism even from friends: but 
for a long time he continued to accept Balakiref's verdicts on 
musical matters as final. He accepted quite meekly Balakiref's 
objections to the transcription for piano duet he had made of the 
King Lear Overture. He had been given the job in September 
1859, and had carried it out to his own thorough satisfaction, but 
not to Balakiref's, judging from the following letter — which 
shows how very eager the twenty-one-year-old pupil was to please 
his twenty-year-old master: 

Thank you, Mily, for having let me off" composing a new Scherzo. 
My frame of mind is not in the least scherzoso, but would be suitable to 
the perpetrating of an impressive Andante. I shall do exercises in part- 
writing — three parts to begin with, and turn out something decent. 
This will provide a seasonable stimulus: for, if my harmonies are 
"balderdash"* it is high time they should cease to be so. Do not be 
very angry about your Lear Overture. After all, it is my first serious 
attempt at a transcription of that kind — my transcription for piano 
solo of Glinka's 'Spanish Overture' does not count! 

During that year, Mussorgsky's output, apart from exercises in 
composition, the lost *Lord of my days' and the revisions of the 
temple scene from CEdipus and of the 'Kinderscherz', consisted of 
only one not very characteristic song, entitled 'You disdain my 
words of love', inscribed to Maria Shilovskaya. The list of his 
compositions during the following two years is equally short. 
In January 1861 he went to Moscow for no known reason — 
possibly, Andrei Rimsky-Korsakof surmises,* attracted by the 
presence there of Maria Shilovskaya. A spell of terrible frost, 
during which he dared not face the return journey, made him 
extend his stay. He devoted a good deal of time to work, and spent 
most of his evenings in the congenial company of new friends he 
had made. On 13 January he wrote to Balakiref: 

I am engaged on a fine and serious piece of work: the Andante and 
Scherzo of a Symphony in D major. The Andante will be in F sharp 
minor, and the Scherzo in B major is already in hand. I found here 
Schumann's Fantasie inscribed to Liszt — feeble stuff"; and what about 
the "fantastisch" at the beginning? Well, it is his Op. 17, composed 
* Probably an epithet applied to them by Balakiref. 


1857- i862 

when he was infatuated with Mendelssohn. I played his (Schumann's) 
Sonata in F sharp minor. The Introduction is not particularly good; 
the best parts are in two Allegro movements, especially the first. I got 
hold of a very bad transcription of Schubert's G major Symphony. 
Demidof (who is probably coming to see me to-night) does not know it, 
so I'll play it to him. 

I am surrounded with very nice people, most of them former 
university students, live and active youths. We spend evenings settling 
all possible questions: history, government, art, chemistry, and so on. 
I enjoy it all. 

And then, three days later: 

The Scherzo is ready, except for the second trio, on which I am 
still at work. It is a big Scherzo, really symphonic, inscribed (as the 
whole symphony is) to the companionship of the Wednesdays, our 
jour-Jixe [the day of the weekly meetings at Balakiref 's house] . Demidof 
came to see me. He is a likeable youth, and very keen. I played 
Schubert's C major Symphony to him, and the tears nearly came to his 
eyes. He longs to hear more of it. He is still very young, but the good 
opinion you have of him is fully justified. I am delighted to know such 
a man. 

Nikolai Rubinstein, Anton's worthy relative, is compelling all 
home-bred Moscow pianists to play Chopin pieces de salon: what a 
choice! Very stupid! I am forging ahead. May God grant me strength. 
I am able to work, but I get tired very quickly. 

1 7 January. 
The Scherzo is quite finished, written down for piano in nice clear 
draft. I hope to submit it for judgment on one of our Wednesdays. 
I intend to leave for home on Friday. 

The Demidof mentioned here had been one of Mussorgsky's 
comrades in the Guards. Meeting him again in Moscow, he found 
him so gifted that he advised him to come to study in Petersburg, 
and even considered inviting him to stay in the family fiat — an 
idea on which Philaret put his veto. 

Two days later. Modest gave further impressions of his friend 
which must have caused Balakiref to rub his eyes or to laugh in 
his sleeve, so much did the tone of the letter suggest a greybeard 
talking of a mere stripling : 

He may go to Petersburg, for in Moscow he has few opportunities to 
hear good music. He is still immature; music has barely touched him 
yet, but he promises well. He is quick at grasping the course of musical 



ideas, often spontaneously noticing their transformations and develop- 
ments. In short, he is endowed with a sense of musical logic. As regards 
aesthetics he is still callow: but, after all, only thoroughly formed 
musicians have a conscious aesthetic sense. For the time being he 
inclines towards Mendelssohn — towards sentimentality turned sour. 
He will outgrow the inclination: we all liked Mendelssohn at some 
time or other. But already he cannot endure Chopin!* Had I known I 
should have to stay in Moscow so long I should have brought other 
works unknown to him. Here I managed to find only the Schumann 
sonata, Schubert's C major Symphony, and Beethoven's F major 
(Russian) Quartet. All these I played to him. 

Meanwhile, Balakiref, who for various reasons disapproved of 
the stay in Moscow, had written to Mussorgsky objecting to his 
new friends and, it would seem, criticising the symphony in 
advance. So Mussorgsky went on to reply to his censures : 

Of course it is difficult to form an opinion of my Scherzo on the strength 
of what I wrote to you: but you shall see it, and then pass judgment. 
I am destroying the first trio and shall compose another. Now let us 
deal with that matter of "benighted atmosphere" on which you lay 
such stress. Obviously, your remarks on my partiality for "benighted 
people" can mean only one thing: that "birds of a feather flock 
together". So, logically, I too must be benighted. But I do not agree 
that my friends are benighted. And, if they are, I cannot understand 
why you think that to breathe their atmosphere should affect me, or to 
breathe my atmosphere could affect them: I know by experience 
(by experience, because we have known one another five years) that 
you regard me as rather benighted. And so you are prejudiced against 
my music because of your opinion of me generally. You say I am 
sinking into the mire and must pull myself out of it. If I have talent, 
I shall not sink into the mire. If not, it does not matter two pins 
whether I sink or not. To be quite frank, I did sink into the mire once 
— not musically speaking, but morally. That's all over. I'll tell you 
some day — it was an affaire de femme. One thing I feel, anyhow: that 
your letter was the outcome of unjustified pique. It is time for you to 
cease regarding me as a child who must be kept on leading-strings 
lest he should fall. That's my reply to your letter, Mily, a fiery, unre- 

* This sentence lends colour to Rimsky-Korsakof's assertion that Balakiref "used 
to liken Chopin to a nervous society lady". But Gui, in his Recollections,^ declares 
that "all the members of the circle loved Liszt and Berlioz, and worshipped Chopin 
and Glinka". Liapunof^ quotes a letter in which Balakiref says "I create an impression 
when I play Chopin's Nocturnes for ladies, or my own early pieces, which are no good 
at all. I am not saying that Chopin is a composer for ladies. Some of his works are 
admirable: but these do not please audiences." 



strained letter for which I thank you, nevertheless : I feared you were 
not going to write to me at all. 

Balakiref had been genuinely upset by his vision of Mussorgsky 
"sinking into the mire". He had even written to Philaret in order 
to find out when Modest would be returning to Petersburg. The 
cloud was soon dispelled, however. He obviously took Mussorgsky's 
strong and dignified reply in good part : for a note of Mussorgsky's 
to Balakiref dated 6 February and couched in warmly affectionate 
terms shows that, by then, harmony was already restored. 

Towards the end of the winter Constantine Liadof, whom 
Mussorgsky had met at the Shilovskys' home, decided to include 
the chorus from the temple scene in (Edipus in the programme of a 
concert given by the management of the Imperial Theatres. The 
performance took place on 6/18 April 1861. It attracted little 
notice; but Mussorgsky must have felt that Liadof 's initiative 
had shown the committee of the Russian Music Society the error 
of their ways. 

By that time, an event had taken place which was seriously 
to affect the whole course of his life: on ig February/3 March the 
imperial ukase abolishing serfdom was promulgated. This spelt 
great difficulties, and often disaster, for the people who drew all 
their income from landed property. It became necessary to 
reorganize speedily on a new basis. Philaret took charge of things. 
More than once Modest had to help him, or even take his place. 
Philaret was not a good business man. He ventured into opera- 
tions which ended in the loss of practically the whole patrimony. 
And so the liberation of the serfs, which must have caused Modest 
great joy, put an end to the comfortable, carefree life the family 
had enjoyed so far. 

A few brief notes written to Balakiref in the course of the year 
show that much of Mussorgsky's time was taken up by business 
matters. He spent the winter at Karevo, for reasons connected 
with the administration of the estate. There he composed an 
Intermezzo, which he remodelled later, and of which several 
versions exist (see infra^ chapter V). This, and a sketch for an 
Alia marcia notturna for orchestra are the only two extant of his 
compositions of 1861 . Of the Andante and Scherzo of the projected 
symphony not a trace remains. According to Andrei Rimsky- 
Korsakof* the Scherzo may have been the one referred to in an 
unpubHshed letter of 22 April 1863 from Cui to Rimsky-Korsakof: 



"Modinka has given utterance to a musical monster: a kind of 
trio to his Scherzo — a really formidable monster, with un- 
conscionably long church chants, and his usual pedal-points, and 
so on, all of it obscure, clumsy and not at all a trio." 

The sketch for the Alia marcia notturna consists of forty-one bars. 
It bears the note: " essay in instrumentation. Lesson on Wednes- 
day. Scored 14 March 1861". Who was to give him the lesson, 
Karatyghin^^ says, is not known. It was certainly not Balakiref. 
Possibly Mussorgsky thought it expedient to go to someone else 
for extra tuition. 

Early in 1862, the family was compelled to give up the well- 
appointed flat in Petersburg. The mother settled at Karevo. 
Philaret and his wife took a small flat where Modest came to live 
after a stay at Volok for a cure. From Volok he wrote to Balakiref, 
on II March 1862: 

I am working on the Andante. Here I am, In comfortable quarters, 
and in great spirits, comparatively speaking. I lead a regular life: in 
bed by eleven, up at eight, and this is good for me. Snow, cutting 
winds, frost. I await the spring impatiently, to start my cure. It is 
time I took myself in hand. Enough of vegetating : I must work and 
act. A change of surroundings is bound to be refreshing: the past 
becomes clear, stands out sharply, and one becomes able to analyse 
one's experiences boldly. This is what I am doing. I see now that 
although I have never shirked work, my Russian laziness has prevented 
my achieving much. I have no special confidence in my talent, nor do 
I doubt it. I shall work as hard as I can, but I am still casting around 
for the kind of work I can do most usefully. 

Studying myself, I notice a kind of slackness, of softness : what you 
have called "wet clay". Well, this is unpleasant: for wet clay takes 
the imprint of all fingers that touch it, be they clean or dirty. I will 
conquer this deplorable weakness. 

Do not regard this letter as an Andante on the strength of its opening 
sentence. I have been having trouble with the second theme of the 
Finale. Maybe things will improve with the coming of spring. Farewell 
until my next letter — provided you have not found this one too 
tedious (if you have, let me know, and I shall take measures). I don't 
want you to regard me as a tedious correspondent. 

Balakiref did not find the letter tedious. Referring to it in a 
letter to their common friend Arsenief, he paid Mussorgsky a 
tribute which felicitously sums up the impression Mussorgsky 
made on all who knew him. 'T have just heard from Modinka. 



He is awaiting the coming of spring. Although he is not in good 
health nor in a buoyant frame of mind, now and then one can 
almost see his usual smile peeping out between the lines. I envy 

Other letters from Volok show Mussorgsky's spirits steadily 
rising : 

The Andante is ready. I am at work on the Finale. I suppose that 
springtime will bring the birth throes and the child will come into the 
world. For the time being, a little Sonata in D major is taking shape. 
I've started on the Scherzo (in B minor). The first movement and the 
first Scherzo of the Beethoven quartet [the piano transcription of 
Op. 130] are ready. I hope to have the whole quartet ready for our 
next season. I am in good health, mental and physical; and I work 
without effort. Just now, my landlady's children are at the piano, 
rending the air with all manners of "accords possibles et impossibles".* 

This is called taking a music lesson. I am reading a most interesting 
book on nature generally, and human nature in particular. It is entitled 
Philosophie de la Nature. '\ I like it because the author does not use 
technical jargon. It is the work of a real human being, who expresses 
himself clearly, freely, and who knows his subject thoroughly. Weather 
conditions compel me to stay at home to-day. I have a companion, 
a hot-headed Prussian, the children's teacher. J He has a fine head 
and bristles with energy and activity. His Spartan nature puts to shame 
my Athenian indolence. He drags me out through waist-deep snow, 
saying I need air and exercise, and indeed these promenades monstres 
are doing me good. He plays the piano quite nicely, and understands 
music. He often treats me to Bach fugues (O Dargopiekh!)§ 

Of these I specially appreciate the one in E major, together with the 
Prelude. The piano is a semitone low in pitch, so it all comes out in 
E flat: I don't like the key of E major. I have been studying him 
carefully, and I like him. He compels me to reconsider my opinion of 
Germans in Russia and Germans in general (except, of course, for 

* Probably a quotation from a French treatise on harmony. 

t By Holbach. 

X Godet® and Savelova^ suppose, quite reasonably, that his may have been the 
Georg von Madeweiss mentioned in the autobiography. 

§ One of the many contemptuous nicknames given to Dargomyjsky at the time 
(see supra p. 22). The exclamation suggests that Dargomyjsky had little use for Bach's 


chapter iv 

Mussorgsky in 1862 

His talents, character, and disposition — His immaturity 
in composition — Early works surveyed — Dissimilar versions 

of songs 

LET us now try to draw, if not a full picture of Mussorgsky 
during the period surveyed — far too many important components 
are lacking for such a task to be possible; and there is practically 
no hope that fuller information will ever come forth — at least a 
reasonably faithful one. 

He was equipped at the start with a disposition for music (but, 
so far as we can tell, this was in no wise out of the common except 
maybe in the matter of piano playing) and also with a capacity 
for improvization as to which we have no testimony except that 
of the autobiography. We know that he eventually became a 
splendid pianist. Cui, according to Lapshin's testimony,^^ held 
that if Mussorgsky had further developed his gifts as a pianist 
he might have risen even higher than Anton Rubinstein. Rimsky- 
Korsakof^^ and others praised his playing highly. We have 
testimonies referring to a later period, as to the quickness of his 
ear and the excellence of his musical memory; and there is no 
reason to suppose that these qualities were not present from the first. 

He soon began to display talent as a singer and amateur actor, 
without having received training in either art. The point is worth 
noting, for it shows that the rare sense of intonation, gesture and 
character to which his mature work testifies was inborn. As a 
composer, and even as an all-round musician, he gave no promise 
of rising above the level of a gifted and successful amateur. As a 
boy, he had a taste for study which, had it been encouraged, might 
have developed and become methodical: but all he actually did 
was to read, eagerly but, it would seem, erratically, instructive or 
pesudo-instructive books on all kinds of subjects. His letters to 
Balakiref (no letters of his to others prior to 1863 are known) 
show him endowed with an inquiring mind and a lively, but 
unrestrained imagination; a bent for self-analysis on fairly 



reasonable and well-balanced lines, and enough will-power to 
put up, at least for a time, a game fight against the consequences 
of pernicious influences and the onslaughts of nervous disorders. 

It is impossible to determine how far the drink habit acquired 
during his school and army years contributed to the coming of the 
bodily and mental ailments described in his letters. Failing medical 
evidence and knowledge of his physiological antecedents, it is 
equally impossible to say whether the two painful puberty crises 
he underwent — one mental (1858), the other (i860) unquestion- 
ably physical — affected the further course of his life. 

Of his sexual disposition and life so little is known that no 
conclusion suggests itself with any degree of likelihood. There were 
in his nature a few traits which one might incline to regard as 
feminine: certain naively soft, ingratiating, clinging ways now 
humorous, now wistful, an eagerness to be liked and understood, 
and so on. But it would be more accurate to regard these as child- 
like. He remained, in certain respects, childlike all his life. 
Moreover, these traits were exclusively psychological; and there is 
no reason to complicate already complex problems by supposing, 
without a scrap of evidence, that they had any counterpart in his 
physical make-up. 

He is, among the great composers of vocal and dramatic music, 
one of the very few in whose works the expression of the emotions 
of love plays but a small and not really significant part. This fact, 
coupled with his professed horror of marriage (see infra^ p. 65), 
has given rise to the notion that these emotions were foreign to 
him. Yet Karatyghin, in the course of investigations carried out 
at Mussorgsky's birthplace, heard that in his youth he had been 
in love with a cousin of his, who died young; and that, by her 
request, his letters to her had been placed in her coffin.^^ Later, 
according to an unpublished letter from Stassof to Findeisen,* 
he was, as already mentioned, infatuated with the brilliant 
Maria Shilovskaya and, after that, with an opera singer, Latysheva 
by name. Andrei Rimsky-Korsakof remarks that these were "mere 
passing fancies, very different from the strong and deep feeling 
which attracted him to Nadejda Opotchinina", an attachment 
in all likelihood platonic, that was to endure until the end of her 
hfe. She was his senior by eighteen years. 

He was reticent as to his own feelings on all such matters. No 
mention occurs in his correspondence of the grief caused to him 
by Nadejda's death in 1874. And a similar instinct, on another 



plane, led him to dislike sex talk, earnest or jocular. His reference 
to "having sunk into the mire in an affair with a woman" and to 
Stassof 's coarse humour apropos marriage are characteristic. 

Another piece of information given by Stassof to Findeisen was 
that Mussorgsky suffered from a congenital malformation of the 
sexual organs, which prevented his leading a normal sexual life 
although it did not altogether preclude his having sexual inter- 
course. One or two non-Russian authors, notably Godet, have 
expressed the suspicion that he may have been inclined to homo- 
sexuality. In reply to an enquiry from the present writer, Andrei 
Rimsky-Korsakof said that no indication to that effect was known 
to exist, and no rumour or suspicion had ever arisen in Russia. 

Despite a few baffling features, his nature was not complex in 
the least. Complexity — or, rather, many-sidedness — manifested 
itself later. Yet, even by 1862, Lapshin remarks :^^ 

A mental duality similar to that which Pereverzef diagnosed in 
Dostoevsky was discernible in him. He was both a dreamer of lofty 
dreams and a cynical sceptic; a man instinct with inordinate pride 
and "the humble Mussorianin" as he used to call himself, punning 
on his Christian name, Modest. Signs of consecutive or simultaneous 
manifestations of his two natures occur in his letter of 1 9 October 1 859 
to Balakiref, which reminds one of Dostoevsky's "At the very moments 
when I was in the mood most suitable to the perception of the lofty 
and beautiful, I would commit some shameful deed". 

Lapshin probably goes further than most analysts of 
Mussorgsky's psychology would be prepared to go on the strength 
of the evidence available. He may have been thinking of what is 
known of him in later years; and even so the term 'cynical', as 
generally understood, is hardly one which seems to meet the case. 
There is, however, a measure of truth in the notion. A definition 
of Mussorgsky's nature is not easy to arrive at. For the time being, 
let us rest content with noting that he was sensitive, impulsive, 
demonstrative and excitable; amenable to influences in certain 
respects, in others thoroughly impervious. The most mysterious 
problem remains the change that took place within him in 1857-8 
when he decided to devote himself wholly to composition. Acknow- 
ledging that he loved music and was interested in it, we remain 
unable to determine exactly what force impelled him to take this 
decisive step. 

We should, of course, not exaggerate the importance of the 



Step from the practical point of view. When he took it he never 
dreamed that he would ever be compelled to earn a living: any- 
how, a military career in a crack regiment would not, in itself, 
have constituted a better insurance against that eventuality than 
composition. And, well born and well off, he would still hope to 
enjoy, after his resignation, a large measure of the social and other 
indirect advantages that fell to the officers' lot. Still, it was a 
momentous decision to take, considering that prospects for young 
Russian composers were not at all encouraging, the musical world, 
and especially the influential fraction of it, inclining to look down 
on native talent and to follow Western fashions in art as in most 
other matters, and that he himself had no particular musical goal 
in view. 

Except for his story of his youthful improvizations, nothing 
shows that he was tormented by a desire to express himself in 
music; up to the age of eighteen he seems to have composed 
nothing but one polka. No symptoms of a wish to follow a definite 
line in composition, or of individuality are to be detected in 
anything he wrote before reaching the age of twenty-four; nor 
do we see that any particular kind of music, or the music of any 
one composer, stirred his imagination and ambition. The notion 
of writing dramatic music appealed to him, if only vaguely, but, 
despite his vivid impressions when he first visited Moscow, he 
asserted no early tendency to musical nationalism or realism. 

Of the former, however, the seed had been sown by the 
experience of his childhood in his native countryside, and lay 
dormant within him. We may admit that an inborn predisposition 
to musical realism was there too. His early experiences of music, 
the atmosphere of the keen, active little circle in which he moved, 
and especially the 'magnetic personality' of his teacher Balakiref, 
provided the first stimuli, potent though vague. 

Balakiref succeeded in making him work more or less methodic- 
ally and long to "write correctly", but, as already said, there is in 
his style no single trace of Balakiref 's direct influence : which is not 
surprising considering how different from Balakiref 's his aims were 
to be. Later, although interested in knowing what his colleagues 
thought of his works, and eager to win their approval, when all 
was said and done he usually obeyed his own instinct. In the case 
of Boris Godunof he had, to a certain extent, to follow for purely 
practical reasons the advice of others; and the question arises 
whether he was not coaxed or bullied into altering things which he 



had carried out to his own thorough satisfaction. His advisers' 
point of view was, as a rule, so different from his own that at times 
they were totally incapable of seeing the reasons for his departure 
from usage, and they seldom approved, except with all manner of 
reservations, of anything he had done. This is one of the many 
facts ignored by the writers on Russian music who contributed to 
spread the legend of 'The Russian Five', a legend created chiefly 
by the writings of Stassof and Cui, and representing the 'Five' — 
Balakiref, Cui, Mussorgsky, Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakof — 
as united by the strong bond of a common ideal, resolved to stand 
or fall together, and working towards a common goal in perfect 
mutual understanding and harmony. Even Balakiref had little 
faith in Mussorgsky's ability throughout the years during which 
he was striving to find himself. Mussorgsky must have felt far 
more isolated than has hitherto been realized. 

As regards his opinions on music, Lapshin^^ rightly points out 
that it is unreasonable and unfair to quote bits culled from his 
letters as if they were part and parcel of a treatise on aesthetics or 
a carefully considered profession of faith and not just impulsive, 
cursory talk in which a certain amount of exaggeration was only 
natural. This applies even to the views he expressed after having 
reached maturity and independence. And, as it is impossible to 
tell how far his early views corresponded to actual feeling and how 
far they merely reflected those of his friends, to attempt to make 
capital out of them would be even more foolish. All that we are 
justified in admitting is that his interest in the music of Beethoven, 
Schubert, Schumann, and also Gluck, was genuine. Schubert's 
and Schumann's influenced him most at the start. He had begun 
to learn from Glinka, Berlioz, Liszt but, as already said, Dargo- 
myjsky's influenced him only later. His preserved output for these 
early years consists of nine songs; the B flat major Scherzo scored 
with Balakiref 's help ; a first version, for piano, of the Intermezzo ; 
'Souvenir d'Enfance', 'Impromptu passionne', and 'Kinder- 
scherz' for piano; the Allegro for piano duet; and one chorus 
for (Edipus (another was used in Salammbo). All these works 
show him endowed with very little technique, and far from having 
achieved a distinctive style. The (Edipus chorus is fine, but un- 
original. Most of the instrumental pieces are insignificant. The 
themes of the B flat Scherzo are commonplace, insufficiently 
differentiated, and poorly worked out; the 'oriental' trio is graceful 
and poetic, but clumsily linked to the repeat by an augmented 



triad (B flat, D, F sharp) which mars the effectiveness of the 
return from D major to B flat. 

The themes of the Scherzo in C sharp minor are more significant 
and better differentiated: the second: 




piano, ma ben mnrcato 







whose rhythm is that of a Russian folk dance (one which 
Mussorgsky used again in the revolution scene in Boris Godunof) 
is spirited and characteristic, but neither is turned to good account. 
Again the trio, as 'Eastern' as that of the B flat Scherzo, is the best 
thing in the piece. The 'Kinderscherz' is graceful and Schumann- 
esque. One interesting detail is a sudden interruption of the 
music's easy, undulating flow by eleven incisive bars that lead to 
the trio, almost a miniature anticipation of an effect in Balakiref 's 
Islamey composed ten years later. It is probably the outcome of 
some humorously descriptive intention — the notion, maybe, of the 
child showing temper before settling down to an imposed task. 
The trio is a kind of Jileuse in 3/8 time, eighty-five bars long and 
rather monotonous. The final coda is brilliant and imaginative. 
In connection with this earliest example of Mussorgsky's descrip- 
tive music, it may be noted that the Intermezzo, too, was inspired 
by a picturesque scene he had witnessed (see infra, pp. 74-5) 
In all these pieces his chief aims seem to be grace and prettiness. 
Nothing is rugged, nothing venturesome even on a small scale: 
nothing suggests the later Mussorgsky. 

Cui's description of the trio of his Scherzo for the projected 
Symphony in D major, and especially his allusion to the church 
chants used in it, suggest that there Mussorgsky had proceeded 
farther away from the beaten track — perhaps experimenting on 
the very lines he ultimately followed, and especially in the use of 
traditional vernacular elements. 

He did far better with some of the songs. The earliest, 'Where 
art thou, little star', exists, as already mentioned, in two versions: 
one with piano accompaniment, dated 1857, the other with 



orchestral accompaniment, and different in many important 
respects.* Both the autograph manuscripts are clear copies 
representing two different schemes of treatment, each in its final 
form. The differences are too great to be regarded as mere cor- 
rections, not great enough to point to a change of conception 
(as is the case for instance with the two versions of Liszt's *Wer 
nie sein Brot'). And so the very first of Mussorgsky's songs sets 
the strange problem which arises again with regard to 'King Saul' 
a song composed in 1863, and especially to portions of the second 
act of Boris Godunof. In its first version, modal in character. Eastern 
in colour, with its beautiful supple melodic line (in which many 
ornaments occur) and its subtle, sensitive accompaniment, the 
song is most attractive. A point of special interest is the use of a 
variable scale — one which may be defined, provisionally, as that 
of F sharp minor in which D sharp and E sharp alternate with 
D natural and E natural, but not in the same way as in the usual 
melodic minor. (The use of variable scales, a very important 
feature of Mussorgsky's music, will be discussed in chapter XVII). 
The orchestral version, which has additional music and bears the 
delightfully childish note: "my little song, orchestrated by my 
own self", is less poetic, less satisfying. The melodic line, much 
simplified and shorn of its coloratura, is less shapely, less varied, 
less bold in its sweep: 



r> "\f 

star, where 

I'"'|J1J li '■ 


art thou, hast thou lost 

thy beams? 

n " [j \\ \\ m 

* This is published, with the accompaniment transcribed for piano, in the Lamm 
edition of Tears of Touth (Moscow, 1931). 





^^ =i= Ji:^ ^^ 




Where art thou, O star? 


^^=^^ ' T ^ 


' Fag. ' ^ 
Celli . I 



Hast thou lost thy_beams? 


Everywhere else the changes result in impoverishment. The 
modal character is less marked, the harmonies and cadences 
are more ordinary. It is impossible to imagine that Mussorgsky 
acted upon Balakiref 's advice. In fact, were the manuscript not 
dated, one might well believe that the orchestral version was a 
first attempt, and the other the outcome of helpful suggestions 
from Balakiref. In short, this strange problem remains insoluble. 

Equally baffling is the case of 'King Saul'. Although this song 
does not belong to the period under survey, it may be useful to 
compare its two versions forthwith. One, which we may label 
version B, was published in 187 1. The other (version A) remained 
in manuscript, coming to light in 1909 only. Version B is far 
smoother, more conventional, less vivid in colouring than version 
A, which was conceived as a dramatic scene rather than as a 
song, and although written for voice and piano, intended for voice 
and orchestra. But Mussorgsky never carried out the scoring. 
Two quotations will suffice to show the nature of the differences. 

Clearly, the differences are in the execution, not in the con- 
ception. The rugged style of version A and the more conventional 
rhetoric of version B aim at achieving the very same kind of effects. 
Both are effective, but A is far more interesting musically because 
of its boldly experimental character, and dramatically stronger; 
there can be no question but that Mussorgsky displays individuality 
and attempts, not unsuccessfully, to strike a new and characteristic 

















^ — *-*-# 

^'^ — #♦♦ 












fr^^ ■ ;^: ^"^ 

,\!]K <^ - t^ 

War - rior host, 


: ^'' | >t i'' ■• H ^ 



^ f * V 


Allegro moderato 

J. J- | r ^ 

War - rior host, 






note.* Many other composers, setting the words to music in 1863, 
might have turned out something more or less similar to version 
B: but how many — apart, maybe, from Liszt — would have given 
us an equivalent of A ? 

It is, of course, possible to hold the view that A represents 

* According to Ricsemann^^ "to prefer it implies a peculiar conception of music, 
which unfortunately has crept into certain writings on Mussorgsky." 



Mussorgsky's own inspiration in the raw and B a toning down, a 
reduction to order and correctness, effected probably according 
to suggestions from outside. There is no evidence either way. 
The fact that B, and not A, was eventually selected for publication 
justifies the surmise that it came after A, and may be considered 
as denoting Mussorgsky's spontaneous preference for the smoother 
version. Maybe, when turning his 'dramatic scene' into a song 
with piano accompaniment, he felt that a more subdued scheme 
would be more suitable, and also decided to lessen difficulties of 
execution. The question remains, how did he, at a few months' 
interval at most, come to turn out two settings which ninety-nine 
people out of a hundred would regard as representing two 
divergent schools of musical thinking ? It is unanswerable in the 
present state of our knowledge. 

Of the other four songs composed before 1863, the best is 'The 
leaves are rustling sadly' with its romantic character, its fine broad 
melody and simple undulating accompaniment, all in accordance 
with the tradition of the German Lied and genuinely expressive, 
but not particularly original. 

To sum up: the differences between Mussorgsky in 1857, on 
the threshold of his musical career, and Mussorgsky at the end of 
1862, after five years of study and casting about, are not very 
great. He had learnt but little of his craft, and all he had to show 
was a small number of minor compositions, none of them really 
significant. He judged himself shrewdly when he wrote to Balakiref 
that "his laziness had prevented his doing much" and that "he 
was still in quest of a path". Supposing that he had given up 
composition at that stage, no question of a loss to art would arise 
on the strength of those few songs and pieces, of his letters, or of 
any other information we have. Even the most searching study of 
his early output in the light of what the music of his maturity 
teaches us reveals no sign of the future that was in store for him. 

Few germs of his mature style are discernible. Examination, 
indeed, reveals mostly features that are the very reverse of those 
which crop up later. Bold harmonies, changes of time-signature 
and of rhythm are not yet part of Mussorgsky's procedure. He 
often dwells on one harmony and uses many long values in the 
vocal parts.* His music — even including the one chorus from 
(Edipus that has reached us — is richer in lyrical than in dramatic 

* See infra, chapter XVII. 



It is an interesting fact that after giving up the idea of (Edipus 
he never devoted a thought to dramatic music until the moment 
when Flaubert's Salammbo stirred his imagination and started him 
on his first serious attempt to write an opera. The years up to 
1863 were years of incubation and not very purposeful casting 
about. It was between 1863 and 1868 that he matured; and there 
is plenty of evidence to show that it was under the very influences 
to which he alludes in the autobiographical sketches. 


1863— 1867 

Mussorgsky matures — Joins a community — Enters the civil 

service — Starts composing Salammbo — Attack of delirium 

tremens and cure — Nevo friendships — Disquisition on art — 

Significant compositions — Estrangement from Balakiref 

IT is probably to the year 1863 rather than 1862 that Mussorgsky 
really referred when alluding to his "having set his brain in order 
and acquired useful knowledge" (see supra, p. 8): for in 1862 
his main professional occupations had consisted in striving to 
compose a symphonic Allegro and Scherzo, and in transcribing 
for piano Beethoven's quartet Op. 130; and his reading, so far as 
we know, of Holbach's Philosophic de la Nature only — a shallow, 
diffuse, and declamatory profession of atheism and materialism, 
having no bearing upon the problems of any art. 

On the other hand he certainly had matured to some extent, 
as shown by Borodin's account of their third meeting and also by 
the judgment he was to pass in June 1863 on Serof's opera. Judith 
which betokens real thoughtfulness and strong views on dramatic 
music. But, as shall be seen, it is mostly from the autumn of 1863 
onwards, when he lived in a 'community', that his general culture 
increased and his outlook widened and tended to become definite. 

The first performance of Judith took place on 16 May 1863. 
On 10 June Mussorgsky wrote to Balakiref from Toropets, where 
he had gone to deal with the business of the family's estate, a 
long letter on the subject of this opera. Certain things in it he 
praised wholeheartedly, but most of it he censured without 
^ mercy ; 

Wagner's Kindchen has achieved the feat of giving us a five-act opera 
which contains no single thought-compelling or really stirring page. 
The libretto is very bad, the declamation pitiful, non-Russian, the 
scoring interesting at times, although too intricate. And yet, this is 
the first earnest Russian opera produced since Dargomyjsky's Russalka 
and therefore is worth examining carefully. The overture is a kind of 
Vorspiel, dull, incoherent, which suggests intentions but not accom- 



plishment: a sombre largo (the Hebrews) with sudden wild blasts in 
the trombones (probably Holofernes) and then the harp agitato (Judith) . 
Serof is unable to conceive his portly heroine except surrounded by a 
halo of harp music — highly unsuitable considering her person and 

In the first Act,. I noticed a serious fault. A phrase: 


which suggests the people lying exhausted on the stage, as seen when 
the curtain rises, vanishes when the elder begins his recitative. I should 
have carried on with it, added something to it, and built up the 
recitative over the working out: for the Hebrews, after all, remain 
there, silent and weary. But Serof forgets all about them until the 
time comes when he sees fit to give them a much praised, but quite 
^2i\tvy fugato. The end of the act is fine. The people have lost all hope, 
except in a miracle; and the music abruptly drops to a pianissimo, 
with, in the bass, fifths of a peculiar mystic quality — a solemn hush, 
not quite complete ; a truly beautiful effect, the finest thing in the whole 
opera. But there is no action in this act, nor in the second; and nothing 
good in the third [Mussorgsky goes into particulars and gives, from 
memory, a number of musical quotations]. 

In the fourth (the Orgy) the orchestra storms and rages, but 
Holofernes's soldiers stand at attention, as though thinking: "Let the 
orchestra carry on: it's no business of ours!" Holofernes carouses alone 
. . . ugly, empty, lifeless stuff! But we do not have to go without a 
song, for the eunuch is ordered to sing one — a most complicated one, 
showing his wide knowledge of counterpoint, imitations, and the like. 
Holofernes resents the eunuch's musicianship, so interrupts him with a 
thoroughly non-contrapuntal, wild, and inane outburst. Then, his 
drunkenness increasing, the hallucination begins. Here again, Serof's 
indigence and weakness stand revealed to the full. And yet, what a 
field this scene afforded! How interesting it could have been to evoke 
the hallucination in the orchestra! Yet, Serof gives us nothing but 
French melodrama with Wagnerian howls in the violins. The scene of 
the murder, too, is also mere melodrama, but effective. The fifth act 
is poor. 

Mussorgsky's conclusion is : 

The whole score testifies to Serof's unimaginativeness, and teems 
with anachronisms. He has dealt with the Hebrews in terms of Christian 


1863- i867 

and indeed Catholic music. It would have been advisable, apart from 
any question of anachronism, not to give us Hebrews indulging in 
mawkish harmonies that hail straight from Catholic organ music 
and are incompatible with the lofty spirituality of the Hebrew mind. 
As for Judith: why should harps and other sweet timbres be pressed 
into service whenever she appears ? This is suitable when she is trying 
to seduce Holofernes. But in the main, she is a woman to reckon with 
— strong enough to behead Holofernes at one blow. She is an embodi- 
ment of energy, physical strength, and heroism. 

All this foretokens Mussorgsky's mature outlook on dramatic 
music : by his sense of fitness, his interest in accurate characteriza- 
tion, in adaptation of the means to the end. His remarks on Serof's 
having forgotten all about the prostrate Hebrews, on the soldiers 
who stand motionless while the orchestra runs wild, are as charac- 
teristic as his objections to Serof's 'un-Russian' declamation and 
to the Judith music. His comments on the anachronisms are sound 
enough provided one interprets them rightly. The first concern 
of a modern opera composer dealing with an ancient subject 
should be to achieve fitness and consistency of style; as is said, 
with regard to writers, in H. W. and F. G. Fowler's The King's 
English, he should "Keep clear of such modes of expression as 
have only modern associations, such as would jar upon the reader's 
sense of fitness and destroy the time illusion. He will aim at a 
certain direct archaism and simplicity, but not resort to ostenta- 
tious, positive archaisms which only remind us that there is an 
illusion to be preserved." 

Serof, it will be remembered, was the great and, indeed, practic- 
ally the only champion of Wagner's music and theories in Russia. 
He had incensed the Russian nationalists by writing an article, 
'Ruslan and the Ruslanists', in which he contrasted the narrowly 
Russian quality of Glinka's art with the universality of Wagner's. 
On the occasion of Wagner's concerts in Petersburg in 1863, he 
had published a set of three big articles on 'Wagner and his reform 
of opera'. The score o^ Judith, however, reveals no assimilation 
whatever of the essentials of this reform. It suggests, indeed, Meyer- 
beer's influence rather than Wagner's; and Mussorgsky's con- 
clusion that "Wagner's Kindchen is not yet out of his swaddling- 
clothes" is, on the whole, quite justified. 

He does not seem to have had the same wholesale aversion to 
Wagner's music as the other members of Balakiref's group. 
Wagner's concerts, the programmes of which included the Tann- 



hduser Overture, the Lohengrin Prelude, three excerpts from the 
Walkiire (Siegmund's love-song, the 'Ride', and the final scene) 
and Siegfried's smithy song, enabled him to form his own im- 
pressions up to a point. Cui, Stassof, and Balakiref had been loud 
in their abuse, Balakiref writing to Rimsky-Korsakof (who was 
then at Libau) : "Wagner came and gave concerts which brought 
nothing new, nothing interesting whatever". 

No mention of the concerts occurs in Borodin's correspondence; 
and we have no positive evidence that Mussorgsky attended them, 
but every reason to suppose that he did. His inclination to abhor, 
as his friends did, what he regarded as the German spirit in music 
(which asserted itself in later years) did not affect his love for 
Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann: so that he may well have 
felt the evocative power of Wagner's music, and appreciated the 
reaction it embodied against operatic conventions, even though 
■ — his own ideal being simplicity and terseness — he must have 
disliked Wagner's insistence and profuseness. The question how 
far Wagner was to influence him will be considered later. Let it 
be noted, meanwhile, that in 1867 he wrote to Rimsky-Korsakof: 
"We are forever abusing Wagner, and yet Wagner is strong, and 
strong because he enquires into the art of music, and deals hard 
measure to it, which he would not do if he were more 'talented'" 
— a sentence which the context (see infra, p. 60) clearly shows to 
imply praise and not censure. But, as regards Serof, if there is any 
truth in Kompaneisky's notion that Judith may have contributed 
to give Mussorgsky the idea of composing Salammbo we may say 
that it also showed him, very definitely, how not to do it. 

In the final portion of his letter to Balakiref, Mussorgsky reverts 
to his personal affairs: 

And I, the sinner, keep worrying about our property, and am coming 
to the conclusion that I shall be unable to live on the income ; so that I 
must enter the civil service if I wish to pamper my humble body — a 
bad, very bad business! 

I have little else to tell you, no impressions of this place which 
I know inside out with its smug, sanctimonious landowners. One 
thing I must say : the peasants are far fitter for self-administration than 
the landlords. At meetings they come straight to the point and show 
that they understand their own interests. Whereas the landowners 
are forever wrangling and giving themselves airs. It is all utterly 
monotonous. Good-bye : in my next letter I may have something more 
interesting to tell you about my life here and myself generally. 


1 863 -'"1867 

A letter he wrote on 22 June to Cui shows the statement that "he 
had no impressions" to have been inaccurate: 

I feel wretched and bored and furious. The administrator [his 
brother, Philaret] has made a terrible mess of things. I hoped to do 
useful work of my own, and find myself compelled to devote my time 
to inquiries and investigations and dealings with police and non-police 
officials. But for my mother, I should go quite mad : but she is overjoyed 
to have me here, so I am glad to give her that pleasure. But what a set 
of landowners ! Of planters ! They all go every day to the club in town 
— and raise a mighty hubbub, beginning with much chatter and 
invariably ending in a free fight. And they spend their time bewailing 
their lost rights and ruination. They sob and howl and raise scandal. 
There are a few decent young men about, but I hardly ever encounter 
them, because they are kept busy negotiating with the peasants. And 
thus I live in this noisome atmosphere, which can stimulate no fine 
thoughts, all one's energy being devoted to avoid the stench and escape 
suffocation. A few days ago I came across some verse by Goethe — a 
short piece which delighted me. I started setting it to music. One bit 
came out well : 















~: -u 

I have composed nothing else. Thanks to the administrator, my poor 
head is entirely in the hands of the police. But at least I am able to 
tackle trifles. The text (from Wilhelm Adeister, I think) refers to a pauper. 
Paupers, for sure, will be able to sing my music without qualms of 
conscience. I am preparing my Intermezzo for the winter. The scoring 
will be interesting. 

The song to which he refers remained unknown until 1909, 
when the manuscript book Tears of Touth was discovered. Until 
then, the sentence "paupers will be able to sing my music without 
qualms of conscience" was regarded by biographers as betokening 
his early concern with depicting the life of the humble and un- 
happy — a thoroughly unfounded notion. What led him to imagine 
that Goethe's harper was a 'pauper' is not clear: the tone of the 
poem is neither plaintive nor imploring, and not plebeian in the 




least. Anyhow, the music has none of the pathetic suggestiveness 
of 'Yeremushka's Lullaby' or 'The Orphan'. It is, like the poem, 
dignified in tone — one might say, suggestive of breeding. Clearly, 
his remark to Cui represents no profession of realism : it is merely a 
humorous allusion to the danger in which he stood of being a 
pauper after the settlement of his father's estate. 

In one particular it may be regarded as a landmark: it is the 
first musical composition in history to end on a discord — a major 
seventh. This is a process that Mussorgsky used many a time in 
later days. Like most of his innovations, it has become current 

Returning to Petersburg in the autumn of 1863, Mussorgsky 
started life as one of a small community of young men. These 
were, Stassof tells us, the three brothers Loghinof (Viatcheslaf, 
Leonid and Peter), Nikolai Lobkovsky, and Nikolai Levatchef: 
all five well-bred youths, who had hitherto lived with their families, 
but wished to attempt a practical application of the theory of 
living in common set forth in Tchernyshevsky's famous novel The 
Vital Question and, besides working in government offices, they 
were engaged in artistic or scientific pursuits (none of them ever 
achieved, it would seem, anything noteworthy) . Each of the six 
had a room of his own, strictly private ; and there was a common- 
room in which they assembled to discuss art, philosophy, literature 
and probably many other subjects. It was then, obviously, that 
Mussorgsky really began to "acquire much useful knowledge", 
and became acquainted with most of the works of the authors he 
names in his autobiography (see supra, p. 3). 

A Russian translation of Flaubert's novel Salammbo had just 
appeared. The enthusiasm of the six youths was aroused, and soon 
Mussorgsky decided to compose an opera on the subject. By 
October, he had written one scene of the libretto (the first of the 
fourth act) : and by 1 5 December, the words and the music of the 
second scene of the second act (Salammbo at the Shrine of Tanit). 
Whether he had made a definite plan before plunging in medias res 
is not known. 

That same month, he was admitted to the civil service with the 
tchin"^ of collegiate secretary. He took up his duties in January 
1864, as assistant clerk of the Central Engineering Board. 

* Tchin: rank, equivalent to military rank, bestowed upon Russian civil servants 
according to the post held, seniority and so on. That of collegiate secretary cor- 
responded to that of staff captain. 


1863- i867 

The year 1864 was uneventful. Mussorgsky divided his time 
between his clerical duties and work on Salammbo. He turned out 
three songs, two of which, 'Night' and 'Kallistrat', are landmarks 
in the history of his evolution and, later, contributed to make his 
name famous — especially outside Russia. 'Night' — a beautiful 
example of highly imaginative lyricism — teems with lovely rich 
harmonies, worthy of comparison with the subtlest and most 
original in the late song-set Sunless."^ 'Kallistrat', which he des- 
cribed as his "first essay in the comic", is also the first of the 
racy, unparalleled character songs in which he evokes the 
peasantry of his country — a wonderfully telling picture of a 
cheerful tatterdemalion. Many features of his mature idiom and 
style (see chapter XVII) are observable in it: notably melodic 
turns derived from Russian folk-music, the use of a modal scale 
with variable notes (as in 'The Little Star' of 1857) and free resort 
to changes of time signature. In the third, 'Wild winds blowing', 
similar features are noticeable. But the song, as a whole, does not 
rise to the same high level. It starts impressively and with great 
driving power (again the main theme resembles that of the 'Ever 
rising' chorus in Boris) , but there is less unity of touch and purpose 
in the middle section. In the course of the year, he also completed 
two scenes for Salammbo : the first of the fourth act (in the under- 
ground chamber beneath the city) and the first of the third (the 
temple of Moloch) . 

We have very little information bearing on the year 1865. 
His mother died in the early spring. He felt the loss deeply, but 
there is no record of how he reacted to the blow. In April, he 
composed two little piano pieces which he inscribed to her 
memory. They are entitled 'From the recollections of my child- 
hood: (No. i) Nanny and I, (No. 2) The first punishment (Nanny 
locks me up in a dark room)'. Two months earlier, he had in- 
scribed to her a song 'Prayer'; and in September he inscribed to 
her memory his beautiful 'Peasant's Lullaby' his first evocation 
of the tragic aspects of the life of the Russian peasantry, and a 
landmark in his progress. This was his only important achieve- 
ment for the year. The only other compositions of 1865 were two 
piano pieces 'Duma' and 'La Capricieuse', and a song 'The 
Outcast Woman', which bears the sub-title 'a study in recitative' 
and is an extremely poor piece of work, so conventional, so stilted, 

* Both 'Night' and 'KalHstrat' exist in two versions, and there are many differences 
between the two forms of 'Night'. 



and so thoroughly unlike any other music from his pen that one 
can but wonder how he came to indite it. 

There is no indication of his having taken any interest in Serof's 
opera Rogneda, which was produced in November and scored a 
great success. Two years later, he wrote to Rimsky-Korsakof: 
"There's a fine and cultured musician for you! What a mess he 
has made of the old Russian epic! His sense of history and of 
musical fitness is inferior to Verstovsky's. He uses in the scene of 
the banquet a modern tavern song and introduces dancing girls, 
as if Vladimir was a kind of Holofernes." 

In the autumn came the "serious illness" (delirium tremens) 
mentioned in Philaret's recollections. It occurred shortly after 
he had spent a three-weeks' leave "for urgent private affairs" at 
Karevo, and we have no particulars of it. There is, in all likelihood, 
a good deal of truth in Z. Savelova's remarks^ that "The atmos- 
phere of the 'community' can hardly have been conducive to good 
health. Its members, while aiming at the 'new life' had not thrown 
their old habits overboard. They must have lived unhygienically, 
and on an inadequate, unsuitable diet, eked out (as customary at 
the time at Russian student reunions) with much drink." 

Whether the visit to Karevo, stirring his memories of his beloved 
mother, and also the fresh worries attendant upon the final disposal 
of what remained of the estate had upset him to the extent of 
inducing an outbreak of the craving for alcohol that lay latent in 
him cannot be said for certain. Anyhow, Philaret's statement is 
the first indication we have of excess on Mussorgsky's part. There 
is no reason to believe that it would have been made otherwise 
than on the strength of some doctor's pronouncement: and the 
diagnosis is not one in which an error can justifiably be surmised : 
the pathology of this disease was perfectly well known at the time. 
Stassof, in his biography of 1881, piously substituted the words 
'nervous disease' and the actual text of Philaret's letter to him 
remained unknown until it was published in 1932.* 

He was persuaded to take up his abode with his brother and 
sister-in-law. He made a quick recovery, which marked the dawn 
of a long period of steady work and speedy progress. In the course 
of the year 1866, he had the good fortune to make new friends who 
exercised forthwith a cheering and stimulating influence on him : 
Liudmila Shestakova (18 16- 1906), Glinka's sister, and Vladimir 
Nikolsky (1836-83). And a close friendship developed between him 
and Rimsky-Korsakof, who had just returned from a world cruise 



in his capacity as a naval officer, and had resumed his place in 
the circle. 

In 1866 Liudmila Shestakova, emerging from a three years' 
retirement following upon the shock caused by the death of her 
young daughter, started keeping open house. She was a charming 
woman, beloved of all who knew her, warm-hearted, enthusiastic, 
energetic, understanding and tactful, devoted to the propagation 
of Glinka's music and keenly interested in the new Russian music. 
Her home became a meeting-place for musicians and scholars; 
Balakiref, the brothers Stassof, Cui, Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakof 
were constant visitors. Mussorgsky's heart went out to her at once, 
and their friendship lasted until his death. She was one of the few 
human beings who showed patient sympathy with him in his 
hours of adversity. 

Her recollections® are a valuable contribution to the portrayal 
of Mussorgsky in 1866 and after: 

When I first met him. he was twenty-seven years old. I was struck 
by the particular delicacy and sweetness of his manners — those of a 
remarkably well-bred and self-possessed man. During the fifteen years 
our friendship lasted, never did I know him lose his temper or in any 
way forget himself, even to the extent of using one unpleasant word to 
anybody. Whenever I marvelled at his self-control, he would reply: 
"That I owe to my mother: she was a saint". Towards Balakiref his 
behaviour was invariably one of deep respect, testifying to his admira- 
tion for his teacher's great talent and wonderful memory. He seemed to 
think more highly of Vladimir Stassof than of any of the others, always 
turning to him for advice on musical, literary, and other similar 
matters. And Stassof, willing to give ungrudging help to everybody, 
was particularly eager to comply, for he loved Mussorgsky both as 
man and artist. 

Many people used to advise Mussorgsky to get married, but he had 
a perfectly ludicrous aversion to the notion. Many a time he assured 
me, in an earnest voice, that if ever I happened to read in the news- 
paper that he had shot or hanged himself, I might be sure that it had 
been on the eve of his wedding-day. 

During the years 1866-9, feverish activity reigned throughout the 
group. The days were not long enough for them all to play their new 
works to one another, and talk music. So, after leaving my house, loth 
to part company, they would spend much time escorting one another 
home. Those meetings at my house were a great joy to me. 

After 1872, Mussorgsky and Borodin became great friends. The 
former was composing Khovanshchina and the latter Prince Igor. They 


often called upon me together. At times Vladimir Stassof joined them. 

It was at her house that Mussorgsky first met Nikolsky, a 
historian and literary scholar, and an authority on Pushkin. 
This friendship, too, ripened quickly. According to Andrei 
Rimsky-Korsakof* the two had much in common — especially a 
great love for the history, legends and traditions of Russia, for 
Russian philology, etc., a keen sense of humour, and an appetite 
for fun. It was Nikolsky who, in 1868, gave Mussorgsky the idea 
of Pushkin's Boris Godunofas an opera subject. The correspondence 
between them lasted from 1867 to 1872. Later, strange to say, they 
seem to have kept in touch almost exclusively through the inter- 
mediary of Liudmila Shestakova, although continuing as good 
friends as ever. 

Rimsky-Korsakof, in his Memoirs, gives the following particulars 
as to the growth of his friendship with Mussorgsky. 

In 1866-7 we began to see much of one another. I used to visit him at 
the flat which he shared with his brother and sister-in-law. There, 
being safe from the interference of Balakiref and Cui* we used to talk 

He played his compositions to me. There was much in them that 
aroused my enthusiasm. We talked excitedly about his plans, which 
were far more numerous than my own. One was for a tone-poem on the 
subject ofSadko. But he had given it up, and he suggested that I should 
use it. Balakiref approved, and so I set to work.*]" 

It was very fortunate for him, who was of a sociable disposition, 
and loved to exchange views with other people and to explain 
himself to them, that he should have made these new friends. 
Otherwise, he might have felt himself quite isolated, as had 
happened before and was to happen in later years. Balakiref was 
beginning to lose patience with him both as man and artist. 
In a letter to Cui of 27 January 1867, he not only dubbed him 
"the addle-pated perpetrator of Libyan and Mixolydian dramas'* 
but also derided the "churlish humour of certain letters of his". 
He remained fond of him after a fashion and anxious for his 
welfare: but Mussorgsky could no longer feel that he was the 
trusted friend, companion and guide of earlier days. 

* Rimsky-Korsakof records that Balakiref and Cui regarded themselves as the 
mature and great ones. "Borodin, Mussorgsky and I were the immature and juniors. 
Our attitude to them was one of subordination. They dictated and we obeyed." 

t The notion had been suggested to Balakiref by Vladimir Stassof in 1861, and 
passed on by him to Mussorgsky. 


1863- 1867 

The first song he composed after his recovery (January 1866) 
'Why do thine eyes reproach me?' is insignificant. In February, 
he reverted to SalammbS, composing a chorus for the fourth act 
(the priestesses helping Salammbo to don her nuptial robe) and, 
in April, a chorus of Libyan warriors (used later for Joshua). 
These were the last portions of Salammbo he wrote. 

His reasons for giving up the scheme are obvious enough. He 
had been attracted by the possibility of composing great choral 
scenes and showing masses in action, but had not succeeded in 
building up a satisfactory libretto. Moreover, the musical treat- 
ment of such scenes on a big scale was beyond his powers. He had 
had a vision of a new type of opera, that would be a drama of the 
people, in which the chorus would play an active part, standing on 
equal rights with the individual characters, not "standing by 
purposelessly until given something to sing", as he had put it in 
his survey of Serof's Judith; but, in actual fact, Salammbo was 
turning out to be, in many respects, very similar to the Meyer- 
beerian type of opera. 

He also felt that he was not destined by nature to com- 
pose music in the Eastern style. Later he explained to Kom- 
paneisky: "To carry on would have been futile: Carthage 
would have fallen into the hands of the foe. Besides, we have 
had enough of the East with Judith. Art is no game, and time is 

As Findeisen rightly remarks, much of the music he had com- 
posed for Salammbo suggested the Moscow Kremlin rather than the 
Carthage acropolis. And indeed, part of it fell into place quite 
naturally in Boris Godunof. 

In the course of the year, he composed four songs which rank 
among his best, 'Savishna', 'Hopak', 'The Dnieper' and 'The 
Seminarist', and he turned his attention to instrumental music 
more purposefully than he had done before. The circumstances in 
which he composed 'Savishna' are noteworthy. He actually heard 
a village simpleton imploring a girl to listen to his love plea; and 
he aimed at reproducing as accurately as possible in reason his 
pathetic, inarticulate words. 

The first mention of actual work on the tone-poem A Night 
on the Bare Mountain occurs in a letter to Balakiref of 20 April 
1866: "Let me know when I may come to see you. I wish to 
discuss all manner of things, and to show you my new bit for 
Salammbo : the war-song of the Libyans, a chorus for male voices 



with a variant a la Georgienne. I have started sketching 'The 
Witches'. Satan's train does not satisfy me yet." 

In all likelihood the composing of this tone-poem was the long- 
delayed aftermath of plans formed years before (see supra^ pp. 38-9) . 
The work, according to Rimsky-Korsakof's Memoirs, was first 
devised for piano and orchestra, under the influence of Liszt's 
Totentanz, the first performance of which in Russia took place at 
Petersburg at a concert of the Russian Music Society on 3 March 
1866, with Herke, Mussorgsky's quondam teacher, as the soloist.* 
But no trace remains of that version, nor is any other first-hand 
mention of it to be found. 

In a letter of 14 August Mussorgsky again expressed a wish to 
show to Balakiref the full score of the Salammbo chorus and to 
discuss 'The Witches' with him. But circumstances prevented his 
so doing for quite a while. 

The year 1867 began auspiciously. On 29 January Mussorgsky 
finished the score of 'The Destruction of Sennacherib', a choral 
setting of a Russian translation of Byron's poem. It was performed 
on 6 March at a Free School of Music concert. Kompaneisky, who 
met Mussorgsky at that concert for the first time, records that 
neither the composer nor the work impressed him. His description 
of the meeting runs : 

Captain M. offered to introduce me, and pointed him out to me. I saw 

a medium-sized, very dandified youth, whose appearance did not 

attract me. He had a snub nose, bulging eyes, red cheeks, his hair was 

slightly curly, and he seemed rather excitable. I wanted to avoid the 

introduction, but it was too late : my companion was already speaking 

to him. So there I had him in front of me, elegantly dressed, wearing 

lilac gloves, perfectly groomed, aristocratic, tight-lipped, talking 

through his teeth, and adorning almost every sentence with French 

words. He struck me as the finished image of a young fop. Yet he was 

obviously well-bred, and I felt in him something out of the common, 

something engaging. The expression of his face would change suddenly 

from sternness to a frank, pleasant smile. I also noticed sudden changes 

in the intonation and rhythm of his speech, his deep, well-modulated 

voice, his impetuous movements, and his challenging attitude — 

tempered, however, by a certain shyness and restraint. Everything in 

him revealed a high-strung temperament and a very short temper. 

Five years later I began to meet him often at Petrof 's house. There I 

learnt to love his music; and forthwith I started propagating it, chiefly 

by singing it in public. 

* The influence of the Totentanz is discernible in many Russian works of the period, 
including even Balakiref 's Islamey. 



There is a certain sameness in the wording of the pen-portraits 
of Mussorgsky that were written from memory : one might suspect 
that the authors were influenced by Borodin's description of him 
in 1859, printed in Stassof's big article of 188 1, which most people 
who knew Mussorgsky are likely to have read. 

Early in the year, Balakiref had gone to Prague, where Liudmila 
Shestakova had arranged for him to conduct performances of 
Glinka's Ruslan and Liudmila (given for the first time in Prague) 
and A Life for the Tsar. He had had to contend against fierce 
opposition on the part of Smetana, who was the chief conductor 
at the National Theatre, and of the whole pro-Polish anti-Russian 
party in the city. This had created a good deal of feeling in Peters- 
burg, and especially in Balakiref 's own circle. Mussorgsky gave 
vent to his excitement in a letter to Balakiref (23 January), a 
mixture of honest anger and childish peevishness in which he 
inveighed with coarse, laboured humour against Anton Rubinstein 
and the Petersburg Conservatoire (the rivalry between this and 
Balakiref 's Free School was raging fiercer than ever), Smetana, 
the Czechs, the Poles, and Roman Catholicism all pell-mell. 

An even more ebullient letter followed three days later in 
which Mussorgsky, after gloating over the failure of Dargomyjsky's 
opera-ballet The Triumph of Bacchus at Moscow, reverted to the 
same topics, considerably extending the range of his denunciations. 

Portions of this letter are, in certain respects, worth considering. 

Must our music really be hemmed in by geographical boundaries? 
Is it a fact that our folk-music cannot take root in a country whose 
people are of our race ? Mark well that throughout Europe music lies 
at the mercy of fashion and slavery. In England singers from abroad 
are engaged, and works are performed — sometimes out of sheer 
desperation. There fashion rules the roost. In France it is all can-can 
and 'debarrassez-nous de M. Berlioz'. The Spaniards and Italians may 
be brushed aside, likewise the Turks and the Greeks. Germany affords 
a perfect instance of slavery: the deification of Conservatoires and 
routine — beer and stinking cigars, music and beer, stinking cigars and 
music alfresco. A German could write a whole treatise on the fact that 
Beethoven wrote a certain crotchet stem downwards and not upwards 
according to rule. He could never realize that Beethoven, working at 
white heat, would make little slips, and did not bother about nonsensical 
details. This kind of stupidity, loathsome enough in the genuine, pure 
German, becomes even more nauseating in the Czechs, mere slaves of 
slaves, who have no ambition of remaining true to their own selves. 
If I have woven this garland, dear Mily, it is because I feel deeply 



for you who have to deal with such cattle. Anger drives me to rise in 
arms against all those Germans and Italians and Jews, who impose 
upon us easy-going Russians. My point is: ask me to sing (in earnest, 
not as a joke) Mendelssohn's Lieder and from a gentle, polished human 
being I turn into a blackguard. Ask a Russian mujik to enjoy the Volks- 
lieder of Germany in decay, and he will be unable to do it, while the 
Czech will revel in the stuff, while loudly proclaiming that he is a 
Slav. A people, a community who remain insensitive to tunes which, 
by reminding them of their ancestry, should set their heartstrings 
vibrating, are dead. 

The Jews, when they hear their traditional music, leap with joy. 
Their eyes shine. I have seen it happen many a time. They are far above 
the Czechs, those Jews of ours, who live in filth, in stinking hovels. 

Those views of his on nationality in music and on the evil 
influence of 'German routine' were becoming an important factor 
in the development of his artistic personality. They can be more 
profitably studied from the letters in which he sets them forth 
more soberly, and less loosely. Let it be noted that in 1867, while 
his feelings against 'German routine' had reached boiling-point, 
he was busily engaged in studying Beethoven's quartets and 
preparing piano transcriptions of movements from Op. 59, 131 
and 135 for use at the meetings of the circle. Apart from any 
question of chauvinism, he must have felt that the ways of pedantry 
and routine were always the same, whether the new Russian music 
or Beethoven's was under consideration. This feeling led him to 
compose, in December 1867, a little song, 'The Classicist' (the 
manuscript bears the explanatory note "by way of reply to 
Famyntsin's* remarks on the heresy of the Russian school of 
music") which is a perfect example of a musical cartoon — a 
genre of which he is the inventor. 'The Classicist' is more interest- 
ing as a cartoon than from the musical point of view. The text, 
Mussorgsky's own work, says: "I am lucid, polished, chaste, 
passionate with restraint — a perfect classic, bashful and urbane. 
I detest and fight modern innovations, feeling that their noise and 
disorder will be the death of art: whereas I am lucid, polished 
etc.," The music illustrates the words most aptly: it resembles a 
school exercise in conventional airs and graces; in the middle 
section, a motif from Rimsky-Korsakof 's Sadko is used when the 
classicist expresses his hatred of modern innovations. 

At the end of April, Mussorgsky lost his government post, 

* An influential Russian critic. 


1863- 1867 

owing to a reorganization of the department. This unexpected 
happening does not seem to have worried him much. His head was 
full of musical plans; his letters show that he felt cheerful and 
buoyant. And, as it happens, not once during that year did his 
mind turn to tragical or gloomy subjects. Indeed the songs of 1867 
are among the brightest in his whole output: the sparkling 
fantasy 'The Magpie' ; the delightfully idyllic 'Garden by the Don' ; 
'The Banquet' ; 'The Urchin', a racy picture of a young scamp 
baiting an old woman until she catches hold of him and cuffs him 
soundly; 'The He-Goat', a good-humoured satirical sketch of a 
girl who gladly marries a repulsive old man for his money; and, in 
another vein, the lovely 'Hebrew Song', a setting of a few lines 
from the Song of Songs. Even 'Gathering Mushrooms', that im- 
pressive evocation of a peasant woman who dreams of her lover, and 
hates her old husband (for whom she would like to set apart a few 
poisonous fungi) has more of wry humour than of malevolence. 

Despite its gruesome subject the music of A Night on the Bare 
Mountain is not frightening but exhilarating; it emphasizes the 
picturesque aspects of the Witches' Sabbath and not the obscene 
atmosphere to which Mussorgsky referred with such gusto (a 
unique instance of a topic of that sort in his correspondence) 
when describing his new work to Nikolsky. 

He set about the score on 10 June and finished it within twelve 
days. How very pleased he was with it is shown by the following 
two letters. 

To Rimsky-Korsakof, 5 July : 

On the eve of St. John's Night, 23 June, I finished with God's help, 
St. JohvLS Night on the Bare Mountain, a tone-picture whose content is : 
(i) assembly of the witches, hubbub and chatter, (2) Satan's pageant, 
(3) glorification of Satan, (4) the Witches' Sabbath. I wrote the score 
straight away without any preliminary rough draft. I began on 10 June 
or thereabouts, and on the 23 came the time to rejoice. Your favourite 
bits came out quite well in the scoring. I have added a good deal to 
what I had composed in the glorification: for instance, there is a 
passage which will make Cui say that I ought to attend a musical 
class at the Conservatoire: 


All the Wood- wind 

p.. »8JJ|aJ^^JJJj | JDJ , jjj?^ , i »J^Jjjjj , fa jJ 



in B minor — the witches glorifying Satan, as you see, nakedly, in all 
primitive barbarity. In the witch-dance comes the following rather 
original call, the strings and piccolo trilling on B flat: 


Horn and Clar. 
3 3 

Horn and Trumpets 
Wood-wind coll' S""^. 





As I said, over a trill on B flat! G minor, over B flat major, alternates 
in amusing wise with G flat major over B flat minor, with interruptions 
by the chords in F sharp minor breaking in — a thing which would 
lead to my expulsion from the class to which Cui would have me con- 
signed for the greater glory of my witches. 

As regards plan and form, the work is fairly novel. Introduction in 
two sections (the witches assemble), motif in D minor with a bit of 
working-out (their chatter) connected with Satan's train in B flat 
major (I have been careful to avoid the 'Hungarian March' eflfect) ; 
motif of the procession without working-out, but followed by a response 
in E flat minor (the ribald character, in that key, is most amusing), 
ending with D major. Then comes, in B minor, the glorification, in 
Russian style, with variations and a semi-ecclesiastic quasi-trio; a 
transition introduces the witch-dance, whose first motif is in D minor, 
and which also consists of variations in Russian style. At the end of the 
dance comes the whole-tone scale, and figures from the introduction 
reappear — which should be rather eflfective. 

You do not know the Witches' Sabbath yet: it is compact and 
glowing. I think the form — variations and calls interspersed — was the 
most suitable in which to cast that evocation of pother. The general 
character of the thing is warmth : nothing drags, all is firmly connected 
without German transitions — which of course would have introduced 
an element of coldness. Please God, you will hear and judge. 

In my opinion, St. John's Night is something new, which ought to 
impress thoughtful musicians favourably. I regret the distance between 
us two, for I should like us to examine the new-born score together. 
Let it clearly be understood, however, that I shall never start re- 
modelling it; with whatever shortcomings it is born, with them it 
must live if it is to live at all. Yet it would be useful if we could discuss 
it together. A good deal might be made clear. And when the work is 


1863- i867 

performed, there will appear in the Viedomosti [the daily of which Cesar 
Gui was the musical critic] a tactful, fatherly dressing-down of Modinka 
by Cesar. There is a book Witchcraft by Khotinsky, in which the 
Witches' Sabbath is most graphically described according to the 
evidence of a woman who was tried for sorcery, and who confessed to 
having had amorous relations with Satan himself. The unfortunate 
lunatic was burnt at the stake. This happened in the sixteenth century. 
The plan of the Sabbath was devised according to her description. 

To Nikolsky, on 1 2 July : 

I have settled the matter of my 'Witches'. You will hear all about 
them from our hospitable Liudmila Ivanovna [Shestakova]. But now 
I am going to tackle the matter from another angle for your benefit, 
and you are free to approve or disapprove. 

'The Witches' is a vulgar appellation, a mere nickname. The real 
title of my work is St. John's Might on the Bare Mountain. If I remember 
aright, witches used to assemble on that mountain, there to jabber and 
disport themselves pending Satan's arrival. When he appeared, they 
formed a circle around his throne and glorified him. When he felt 
sufficiently stimulated by their praise, he gave the signal for the 
Sabbath to begin, selecting for himself those witches who had taken 
his fancy. Well, that's how I've done the thing! (i) The assembling, 
the jabber and pranks ; (2) Satan's train; (3) the obscene glorification; 
and (4) the Sabbath. If the work is performed I wish this programme 
to appear on the bills for the enlightenment of the audience. My music 
is Russian and independent in form and character, fiery and disorderly 
in tone. In fact, the Sabbath begins with the entry of the minor devils : 
in the old narratives the glorification was part of the Sabbath. I have 
labelled the episode separately in order to define the musical form 
(which is new) more clearly. Please tell me whether I have understood 
the subject well. You know something of my musical talents, and 
will realize the importance I ascribe to accuracy in the depiction of a 
traditional legend, whatever its particulars, so far as such a thing is 
possible in music. I have no use for music which does not depict 
truthfully, unless it bears no specific title and is just named, according to 
German practice, this or that in B flat minor or A minor. 

I composed St. John's Night at great speed : right away in full score, 
clear draft, in about twelve days. Thank God it took me only four days 
to write down my other piece 'Intermezzo' also in clear draft. Most of 
it had been composed for piano solo in 1863 [sic. for 1861]. While at 
work on The Night I did without sleep and actually finished it on St. 
John's Eve. It simply seethed within me. I did not even know what 
was happening within me — or rather — I knew, but it was no use 
knowing, it would only have made for bewilderment. In the Sabbath, 



I divided the orchestra into separate groups; Hsteners will easily 
apprehend the respective timbres of wind and strings standing in 
sufficiently sharp contrast. I think that is the actual character of a 
Sabbath : a scattered, but continuous cross-fire of calls, until the whole 
rabble unite in the final embrace. At least, that is how I conceive the 
thing. I am talking a lot about my Nighty but probably for the reason 
that I see in this wicked prank of mine a really Russian and original 
achievement, quite free from German profundity and routine, born, 
like Savishna, on Russian soil and nurtured on Russian corn. 

These lines repay study in more ways than one. Apart from 
showing his increasing concern with being really and wholly 
Russian, original, independent of 'German routine', and his 
dislike of German methods and the German spirit, they reveal his 
eagerness to achieve an almost Utopian degree of accuracy in 
evocation and depiction. He seems to believe that evocation can 
be not only graphic, but ethnographically specific, and that it 
can descend to minute details. He stands firm in his belief that 
music should be a means and not an end. There can be no question 
but that he was further than ever from developing a sense of abstract 
musical form, and able to think in terms of illustrative music 

Another interesting point is the new note of confidence in 
himself. He is no longer tormented by doubts, nor disposed to 
follow advice. A year or so later, when engaged in composing The 
Marriage and in exploring the possibilities of characterization in 
stage music, once again doubts assailed him : he felt that he had a 
lesson to learn. But in matters of instrumental music, his labours of 
1867 represent a ne plus ultra. They gave him a limited, but useful, 
knowledge of orchestration. A Night on the Bare Mountain in the 
original (though probably not the first draft) revealed in 1933, 
when Nikolai Malko gave performances of it in many countries, 
proved to be not only satisfying but brilUant from the orchestral 
point of view. 

Mussorgsky also remodelled that year 1867, his piano 
Intermezzo of 1861, expanding and orchestrating it. Years later, 
he revealed to Stassof that this piece, despite its purely classical 
character, was 'secretly' Russian and had been inspired by a scene 
of the life of the people. 

It was, he told me, in 1861. On a sunny winter day he had seen a whole 
crowd of peasants crossing the fields, stumbling in the snow, often 


1863- 1867 

sinking quite deep and having to struggle to extricate themselves. 
It was a beautiful, picturesque scene, both impressive and amusing. 
Then, suddenly, a group of girls appeared, laughing and singing as 
they advanced along a smooth track. "The picture immediately 
transformed itself into music within my head, and unexpectedly the 
first theme of my Intermezzo rising and falling a la Bach took shape. 
And the girls' mirth took the shape of a melody which I used later for 
the middle section — the trio. But all this in modo classico, in keeping 
with my tendencies at the time." 

To Rimsky-Korsakof he gave the following particulars in a 
letter of 1 5 July, which also contains all that is known of a still- 
born plan of his to compose another tone-poem — this time on a 
historical Czech subject: 

The Intermezzo is finished in full score (B minor). It was originally 
a piano piece without a middle section. Now it has one, in E major, 
in the character of the trio and scherzo of Beethoven's ninth Symphony: 
that is, with strings, pizzicato, and light jovial scoring. This section, I 
grant, stands in rather sharp contrast with the B minor main part and 
repeat, but it will create a refreshing impression before the return to 
B minor. In the B minor part the rhythmic pulsations are entrusted 
to the strings, pizzicato, and wind, thus: violins with woodwinds, 
then 'celli and basses with trombones pianissimo. I believe this will be 
fairly effective. The piece is a mere sop to the Germans; and I have in- 
scribed it to Borodin. Anyhow, I am glad I composed it. Now I am plan- 
ning a poem Podebrad, the Czech. ... I have already a few 'standpoints' 
[sic] for it. The introduction begins with two progressions, the second 
in C sharp minor. Then comes a kind of continuation of the above little 
theme, in the style of a Slav cantilena ending with all the strings 
vibrating in an orchestral tutti. The crescendo gradually reaches a 
fortissimo (explosion) after which comes a gradual return to calm. The 
Introduction represents the sad situation of Bohemia under the German 
yoke. There is a Podebrad's theme and a theme expressing the Pope's 
anger with Podebrad. At the end, after runs in various strings on the 
scale of A major, and a little Slavonic fanfare in the brass, the Podebrad 
theme (I am arranging it a la guerra) : Podebrad — the King — Slavism 
victorious. The poem begins in F sharp minor but ends in D major.* 

The idea of composing this tone-poem was obviously suggested 
to Mussorgsky by the fact that in May 1867 a special concert had 

* George of Podebrad was a King of Bohemia who, in the fifteenth century, 
successfully defended his country against the encroachments of the Germans and the 
Papacy. As regards the "beginning in F sharp minor and ending in D major", see 
infra, chapter XVIII. 



been given at Petersburg in honour of visitors from various Slav 
countries ; Balakiref had composed an Overture on Czech themes 
for the occasion, and Rimsky-Korsakof a Serbian Fantasy. But 
Mussorgsky's interest in instrumental composition was short- 
lived. One of the reasons he did not go on with Podebrad and 
never composed another orchestral work, was that Balakiref 
disapproved of the Night on the Bare Mountain and flatly refused 
to arrange for a performance of it. It was, in fact, never 
performed during Mussorgsky's lifetime, although he remodelled 
it, and also tried to use it in the act allotted to him of the collective 
opera Mlada (see chapter VIII) and in The Sorotchintsi Fair. The 
main reason, however, is that shortly afterwards he found subjects 
for dramatic works which really fired his imagination: first The 
Marriage, then, before he had started on the second act of this, 
Boris Godunof. The only instrumental works he composed after 
1867 were the Pictures from an Exhibition for piano, a tribute to the 
memory of a friend, and a few unimportant piano pieces. 

He gained during 1867 no small measure of experience in the 
art of writing for the orchestra. His correspondence with Rimsky- 
Korsakof shows that he approached the problems of instrumental 
music in a thoughtful and critical spirit, and did not take questions 
of harmony, key-relation, scoring and so on lightly. 

Rimsky-Korsakof had given him particulars, with musical 
examples, ofSadko. His discussion of them is most instructive: 

You were right in deciding to begin by evoking, not a storm, but the 
undulating sea: this will be far more awesome and imposing; and I 
like your way of doing it. The plain D flat for the water-music is a 
good choice. The scale depicting Sadko dragged to the bottom of the 
sea is most original harmonically, and adequately fierce and fantastic. 
The quiet, luminous turn to D major is very successful. When the 
winds interrupt for the first time the D major melody the effect is 
delightful : but the next example you quote smacks too much of Serof 's 
Rogneda. I won't have that! Change it, please, for Heaven's sake! 

The step from A to G sharp in the bass is bold and you know I'm 
all for boldness. But here harmonic confusion will ensue. It might 
sound wrong in the orchestra — but I may be wrong. The accompani- 
ment to the underseas theme is poetic and alluring. And how very 
right you are not to give the muted strings high notes! The medium 
and low notes are so enchanting, so fit to suggest the underseas 
kingdom! Masterly! I do not approve of your religious theme. It is 
not bad, but it lacks the semi-ascetic and at the same time luminous 


1863- 1867 

quality I consider desirable. Arising suddenly in the midst of the 
tempest, it ought to create an instantaneous and thorough change of 
mood. You find another one ! 

All that you tell me shows that I did wisely in urging you to compose 
Sadko — your first Russian work. I rejoice, and the successful completion 
of Sadko will mean a lot to you. 

Rimsky-Korsakof 's replies are in the same strain. He approved 
of the Night on the Bare Mountain as described by Mussorgsky. 
* 'Harmonic and melodic blemishes are admissible in a hymn to 
Satan, and nobody would dream of consigning you to a Con- 
servatoire for what you have done. The Conservatoire people will 
shudder, no doubt, while incapable of turning out anything 

He went on to say that he had spontaneously altered the Serof- 
like theme, and decided to do away with the intervention of St. 
Nicholas. He defended the passage which Mussorgsky had de- 
clared shocking, explaining that the contrasting orchestral timbres 
would save the situation. And he expressed his eagerness to read 
the score of A Night on the Bare Mountain, 

These letters give a faithful picture of the relations between 
the two young composers as they remained until 1874 or so — a 
period during which they kept in close contact and continued to 
exchange views and criticism as well as confidences. Liudmila 
Shestakova's Recollections® state that they often met at her house 
to discuss things. " At times amusing scenes occurred. Rimsky- 
Korsakof would sit at the piano and play his latest achievement, 
after which Mussorgsky ofifered his comments, Rimsky-Korsakof 
jumping up and pacing the room. But Mussorgsky remained 
quietly seated, or played bits on the piano, until Rimsky-Korsakof 
regained his composure, came close to him and listened attentively 
to his talk, and often ended by agreeing." 

In later years Rimsky-Korsakof's musical outlook changed 
considerably. He ceased to believe that 'blemishes' of a kind fit to 
set Conservatoire professors a-shuddering could ever be accept- 
able. He blushed for his own sins against scholastic conventions, 
and revised all his early works drastically. His path diverged 
more and more from Mussorgsky's, and they ceased to understand 
one another's artistic aims. In his Memoirs Rimsky-Korsakof 
says: " In January 1874 Boris Godunof was produced. We all 
rejoiced and triumphed"; but in reality he, like everyone else 




except maybe Stassof, was torn between admiration for 
Mussorgsky's genius and horror for his trespasses against the 
conventional musical grammar of the time. 

In 1867, however, Rimsky-Korsakof, not yet nearing this 
second stage of his evolution, was eager to accept Mussorgsky as 
he found him. The two, for the time being, were working on 
parallel lines: Sadko and the Night on the Bare Mountain were, in 
fact, the first two actual tone-poems composed by Russians, 
even Balakiref had not proceeded beyond overtures so far. But it is 
impossible to say whether Rimsky-Korsakof persisted in his 
approval of Mussorgsky's unconventionalities in the Night on the 
Bare Aiountain after he had seen the score: the Memoirs contain 
only a brief colourless reference to his first contact with this work. 

Balakiref 's refusal to have anything to do with the Night on the 
Bare Mountain and the reasons he gave for it must have cut 
Mussorgsky to the quick. In a letter to Rimsky-Korsakof of which 
only the last part has been preserved (it is permissible to surmise 
that the remainder was destroyed for the reason that it contained 
even more vehement expressions of annoyance) he gave vent to his 

So people require perfection! Well, consider art throughout history, 
and you will find no such thing as perfection : at least, not in works on a 
big scale. Every big work has its flaws, but these do not count; it is the 
artistic achievement as a whole that counts. We often inveigh against 
Wagner, but Wagner is powerful, and powerful because he submits the 
art of music to searching investigations, and does violence to it to 
achieve his end — which he would not do if he had more 'talent'. [It is 
obvious that here the word is used in a depreciatory sense.] And 
Berlioz! And Liszt! In every one of their works there are flaws. We are 
too severe upon ourselves. All such excuses are dangerous. How can 
one fail to shudder at the notion of "exercises in scoring for ten 
instruments"? Yet this is Balakiref 's prescription after your Sadko and 
after having discussed my unfortunate 'Witches'. And to want F sharp 
a la Liszt — Dante Symphony — for the glorification of Satan ! Corpo di 
Bacco ! 

This disappointment had come at a moment when it was 
imperative for him to make headway as a composer. He found it 
difficult to obtain a new government post, and was earning nothing 
with his music. Balakiref and his other friends were concerned with 
his situation, and offered to help him. From Minkino, where he 
had gone to stay for reasons of economy, he wrote to Balakiref, 


1863- 1867 

on 24 September (this is the letter which Liapunof regarded as 
written in 1862). 

Your friendly behest is so imperative, that to ignore it would be, to 
say the least of it, to sin against all the friends who show such kindness 
to me. I must show my gratefulness, by deeds, not by mere words. 
Now if I were without food and without hope, my reply would be 
such as might be expected from a human being at bay. But as things 
are, I consider I have no right to frighten my friends and I wish to 
state my case with all the fairness that their affectionate concern 

It is true that my resources have shrunk, but not to such an extent 
as altogether to prevent my supporting myself. Being accustomed to 
comfort, and even to a certain amount of luxury, I felt anxious at first 
with regard to the future; and no wonder I pulled a wry face — any- 
body would have done the same in the circumstances. But I beg you, 
I adjure you, in the name of truth, to set your mind at rest and reassure 
all my dear friends. I cannot bear the thought that they are anxious on 
my behalf in consequence of my having conveyed a false impression. 
The notion that I misled them is most painful to me. Believe me, dear 
Mily, having lived with my family, and afterwards apart from them 
for two years, having been pampered and never stinted, free from 
anxiety as to my future, I had to give serious consideration to my 
present difficulties. Having carefully gone into figures, I find I cannot 
afford to return to Petersburg at the beginning of October as I should 
have wished ; but I can manage to live there from November to April 
or May. This means the sacrifice of one month which otherwise I could 
have spent in town, in the company of my friends. It's a long time, but 
I submit rather than worry and see my friends worrying. Surely, all 
those who genuinely love me will be glad to see me self-supporting 
rather than roving like a meteor; and they will agree that I am right, 
since the extra month in the country will mean nearly seven splendid 
months in Petersburg, and the possibility of carrying on in peace., 

I shall try to secure a government appointment (the most hopeful 
solution), but it seems that there is no chance of one before the New 
Year. Please get the meaning of all this clear, be reassured, and reassure 
my friends. You must! 

The change in my circumstances has affected me but slightly, and 
for a short time. Being naturally buoyant, I soon came round, and I 
intend to stand firm. My spleen was not the outcome of the autumn in 
the country nor of my financial affairs. It was an 'author's spleen', I 
confess to my shame : I was embittered by your attitude to my 'Witches'. 
I considered, still consider, and shall continue to consider that my work 
is satisfactory. After having composed various small things of my own, 
I come forth with my first big independent achievement. Well, the 



Spleen has gone, as all things go, I have become accustomed to my 
position as a composer, and I am now starting on a new work, the 
pine-laden air stimulating me to activity. Whether you agree to produce 
my 'Witches' or not, dear friend, I shall alter neither the plan nor the 
working out : for both are in close relationship with the contents of the 
scene, and carried out in a spirit of genuineness, without trickery or 
make-believe. Every artist remembers the disposition governing the 
planning and carrying out of his work, and this remembrance does a 
good deal towards helping him to abide by his own standards. I have 
accomplished my task to the best of my ability. The one thing I will 
alter is the percussion, which I have misused. 

I embrace you with all my heart and again thank you for your 
message: it is good, very good to feel surrounded by good-will and 
warm friendship — it is better than tons of money. 

Here we have Mussorgsky at his most lovable, and exactly as 
described in the recollections of his friends: warm-hearted and 
sensitive, proud and unassuming, responsive and restrained, firm 
in his convictions, and courteous in his defence of them. But this 
is the last letter of the kind he wrote to Balakiref. The breach 
between them soon widened. The time was not far distant when 
Balakiref, after a serious nervous breakdown (the aftermath of his 
losing battles against musical officialdom and his vain efforts to 
keep the Free School of Music going), was to retire from the 
musical world and live for nearly five years in complete isolation. 
But, even before, Balakiref 's criticism of Boris Godunof had com- 
pletely estranged Mussorgsky from him (see infra, p. 1 69) . The two 
resumed their friendly relations only in 1878. 


chapter vi 

Mussorgsky at the End of 1867 

Significance of his songs — His realistic aims — Definition of 

realism in art — The stages of realism in music — Mussorgsky 

finds himself under the influence of literary and philosophical 


MUSSORGSKY at the end of 1867 — that is, ten months or so 
before he started work on Boris Godunof — is a particularly interest- 
ing subject of study; and it is only by studying him at that point 
of his evolution that we may hope to discover the contributory 
causes of the amazing change which took place within him after 
1862. Neither his letters nor anything in his works up to that 
moment could, it is true, be regarded as foreshadowing the advent, 
in the near future, of an achievement of such magnitude as Boris 
Godunof Yet, all the elements of his artistic personality, and 
practically all the aspects of his creative genius, no sign of which 
is discoverable in his earlier output, are manifest in the best of the 
songs he turned out between 1863 and 1867; and even Salammbo, 
although given up by him, contained music good and charac- 
teristic enough to satisfy the requirements of his mature mind 
and find place in Boris. The series of his admirable peasant songs 
stood complete except for 'The Orphan' and 'Yeremushka's 
Lullaby' (and these were composed in January and March 1868 
respectively) : intensely live and telling portrayals, tragic, or 
humorous, or even comical, drawn with infinite sympathy and 
understanding, utterly unlike anything ever done before and to 
the present day unique in the repertory of song. Lyrical songs, 
such as 'Night', 'The Garden by the Don', the 'Hebrew Song', and 
the fanciful, irresponsible 'Magpie' are thoroughly representative, 
and testify to his capacity for characterization, his imagination, 
and resourcefulness. With 'The Dnieper', he rises to a level of 
romantic grandeur foreshadowed in some of the early songs 
('King Saul', 'I own many palaces', 'Wild winds blowing'). 
Practically all the distinguishing features of his mature style, 
including the shortcomings and weaknesses, real or alleged, are 



present in these works. They are part and parcel of his style, 
necessary means towards the ends he had in view; and most of 
them cannot be altered, under pretext of 'correcting', except for 
the worse. 

In other words, although he had but a handful of short works 
to show, he had, before reaching his twenty-eighth birthday, 
thoroughly found himself. As an artist, he tells us in his auto- 
biography, he matured under the influence, on the one hand, of 
the musicians around him, and on the other hand of writers and 
scientists among whom he names Lamansky, Turgenief, Kosto- 
marof, Grigorovitch, Pissemsky, and Shevtchenko. This is an 
important statement, but one that requires careful investigation. 
Russian biographers have not called this particular point into 
question. Gerald Abraham^ inclines to regard it as a piece of 
window-dressing, on a par with the reference to the 'triumphant' 
concert tour with Leonova and the assertion that Khovanshchina 
and The Sorotchintsi Fair were going through the press. Neither 
Karenin's nor Andrei Rimsky-Korsakof's comments imply 
doubt as to Mussorgsky's truthfulness on this subject. And 
anyhow, supposing for the sake of argument that he exaggerated 
the closeness of his personal relations with these writers, it remains 
more than likely that he learnt much from their writings, and 
found in them much food for thought. And if we admit this, we 
find a reasonably satisfactory explanation — and indeed the only 
one discoverable in the present state of our knowledge — of the 
change that took place in him. 

The more we study his output, the more clearly we realize that 
the composers around him exercised on him but a general, limited 
influence. Of those whose works he studied under Balakiref's 
guidance, Beethoven, Berlioz, Liszt and Schumann impressed 
him most. He loved and understood Schubert, and he studied 
Gluck diligently, but his musical style owes little to either. From 
Wagner he learnt very little, except as regards the possible func- 
tions of leitmotives. Glinka's influence is noticeable in his lyrical 
music and also in the few examples of musical orientalism his 
output includes ; that of Balakiref, likewise Dargomyjsky's, great 
as regards outlook and aims, was very small from the actual 
musical point of view, and did not make itself felt before 1867 — 
the period of The Stone Guest, 

The main influence from the musical point of view was that of 
Russian folk-music (see chapter XVI), which worked on him quite 



Otherwise than it did on Balakiref, Borodin, and Rimsky-Korsakof. 
But, even after having made full allowance for these various 
formative influences, to establish a genealogy of his musical style 
remains an almost insoluble problem. 

The first step towards a solution consists in noting that his music, 
while having in certain respects close affinities with that of his 
Russian colleagues, was in the last resort so fundamentally dif- 
ferent as to remain practically a sealed book to them. Later, it 
came to stand out as something apart and unique. But his col- 
leagues regarded it as mainly freakish, and he realized soon 
enough that between their ideals and his own there was an 
unbridgeable gulf; whereas the aesthetic, social, and philosophical 
(or pseudo-philosophical) ideas he exchanged with his non- 
musical friends, the literature he read, the tendencies that were 
gaining ground in all fields outside music, provided him with 
views on the function of art in general and of music in particular 
which he found illuminating — with a definite goal which attracted 
him strongly. When, years later, he complained to Stassof that 
"whereas he could usually listen with profit to the conversations 
of other artists, he seldom heard his fellow-composers express a 
live thought" (13/25 July, 1872), he was referring, no doubt, to 
old as well as to recent experiences. So there is no reason to regard 
the reference in the autobiography to the influence of writers and 
scientists as only a piece of 'window-dressing'. In point of fact, 
all tends to show that this influence was not merely general, but 
specific ; that it not only gave a direction to his art, but contributed 
more directly than that of any composer (although, of course, in a 
less obvious way) to his progress, and even to the formation of his 
musical style. 

No doubt the notion that general aesthetic, philosophical, and 
sociological ideas could have a crystallizing effect on a composer's 
style is (as pointed out by Frank Howes^^) paradoxical. Fortunately, 
there is no lack of evidence to support Mussorgsky's own state- 
ment to that effect. As a youth, he was greatly interested in the life 
around him, and displayed a gift for keen observation : but nothing 
of this appeared in his early music. It was only from 1863 onwards 
— that is, from the moment he joined the 'commune' and began to 
develop "an earnest, strictly scientific turn of mind" — that the 
character of his music started changing. So the natural conclusion 
is that the cumulative effect of his own thinking and of his 
reactions to other people's 'live' ideas was to compel him to take 



Stock and explore ; to enquire more and more searchingly into the 
properties of all the expressive elements he used, whether rhythms 
or melodies or harmonies or colours, and their combinations; and 
never to rest satisfied until he had discovered the specific accent, 
turn, or arrangement best suited to the requirements of the moment ; 
and to provide him, as will presently appear, not with actual 
musical ideas or means, of course, but with standards which, 
although elastic and even indecisive from the musical point of 
view, were in many respects positive enough — especially with his 
genius as touchstone. His instinctive interest in the simple people, 
in the peasants, in all that was characteristically Russian increased; 
he developed a deep mistrust of the notion of art for art's sake, and 
his ambitions centred on reality in art, or, as most writers put it, 
realism (the various senses in which this most misleading term is 
used will be considered presently). 

As everybody knows, the history of Russian thought and 
literature at that time is that of the growth of those two very 
elements : interest in the life and psychology of the simple people, 
and interest in *true to life' methods of treatment. In order to 
account for the formation of Mussorgsky's artistic personality, it 
is useful to consider many writers, older or contemporary, whom 
he does not name because he never had any personal contact with 
them (this, as will be remembered, was presumably his reason for 
striking Dostoevsky out of his list) . The following quotations from 
two famous essays printed in the 'forties and 'fifties respectively, 
may serve as examples : 

In proportion as Russian literature became independent and 
national, it became a vital necessity for writers to turn all their attention 
to the people. . . . Gogol won the day because he directed art to reality 
exclusively, apart from any question of ideals. The ideal was no longer 
to beautify (that is, to lie) but to find the correlation between the types 
created and the thought which had determined their creation. He 
depicted ordinary human beings, not pleasant exceptions only. Nature 
is the eternal model of art, and the greatest, most noble subject in 
nature is man. Is a peasant not a man? His soul, heart, passions are 
the same as the cultured man's. . . . The idea of a pure, exclusive art, 
aloof and segregated within its own sphere is an abstract, visionary 
idea.* (Bielinsky). 

Beauty is life . . . reality is not only more live but more perfect than 

* Compare: (a) Philaret's declaration in his reminiscences that his brother 
considered a mujik "a genuine human being"; (b) in Mussorgsky's letter to Stassof of 
1 8 October 1872, infray p. 126. 



fancy. . . . The scope of art is not restricted to beauty in the aesthetic 
sense of the term. Art should represent everything in Hfe which is of 
interest to human beings. Representation of Hfe is the very essence of 
art. Certain works of art not only represent, but express life — they 
are judgments on the facts of life. (Chernyshevsky).* 

The men whom Mussorgsky names preached and practised the 
same doctrines. Grigorovitch (i 822-1 900) and Turgenief (1818- 
83) were among the first Russians to introduce serfs into fiction, 
describing them with warm sympathy — the former in tales written 
in the 'forties, the latter in his well-known Annals of a Sportsman 
(1847). Pissemsky (1820-81) was "unrivalled in his time as a 
painter of North-Russian mujiks, in tales published in the 'fifties. 
In 1863 or so, he was exercising a great influence in Petersburg, 
which he left for Moscow in 1863".! 

Vladimir Lamansky, in 1867, was a lecturer in Russian history. 
Two years before, he had denounced, in a pamphlet entitled 
'Nationality, Italian and Slavonic, from the point of view of 
politics and literature', the evil influence of German poetry and 
literature, which were diverting the Russians from studying the 
Greek and Romanic cultures, and had fostered a taste for abstrac- 
tion and artifice. He was a keen believer in artistic nationality, 
and an enthusiast of folk-lore. 

Kostomarof (1817-85) was a historian who in his work strove 
above all things to "give the first place to the life of the people in 
all its typical aspects" (his own words in his Autobiography, Peters- 
burg, 1890). In 1 87 1, he published a book on the historical 
significance of Russian folk-poetry, and also a History of the 
Raskol and the Raskolniki, which may have contributed to awaken 
Mussorgsky's interest in this subject (see infra, chapters VIII, XIII 
and XIV on Khovanshchina) , Like his close friend, the poet Shevt- 
chenko, Kostomarof was a Little Russian; and these two, jointly, 
may have helped to direct Mussorgsky's attention to the possibilities 
of Little Russian atmosphere and character (see chapter XIII). 

Kostomarof, by the way, seems to have been the only one of the 
non-musician friends named in the autobiography who ever 
expressed approval of Mussorgsky's works — describing Boris 
Godunof as "a live page of history". Kavelin (1818-85), by his 
many pamphlets written between 1855 and 1862, played an 

* The Aesthetic Relation of Art to Reality, 1855 (quoted by Gliebof^). 

t Pissemsky: Works (Petersburg, 1910), 8 vols. Preface by V. Zelinsky. 



important part in bringing about the liberation of the serfs. In 
1868 he pubKshed a long review of Troitsky's book German 
Psychology during the Present Century, a historical and critical investiga- 
tion, with a preface on the achievements of English psychology from the 
times of Bacon and Locke (1867), in which he unrestrictedly endorsed 
Troitsky's thesis that "the duty of psychology is the empirical 
study of psychological and physiological facts jointly", and con- 
cluded with the remark, "German psychology after Kant is a 
legend at the basis of which lies truth, but not that truth which 
this psychology propounds". 

Gliebof^ finds points of contact between Troitsky's doctrines 
and Mussorgsky's. The book may have contributed to strengthen- 
ing Mussorgsky's belief in empiricism as the path to artistic truth: 
but he may merely have felt the same as regards the chapter 
'Music as the expression of feelings' in Gervinus's Handel and 
Shakespeare (1868). But, by the time these books appeared, he had 
reached so advanced a stage of development that no question of 
formative influence arises. 

As regards Virchow, it is difficult to discover what Mussorgsky 
may have learnt from the writings of this gifted and versatile 
pathologist, anthropologist, and politician. The references to him 
and to Gervinus in the autobiography may have been intended 
simply as sops for the German users of Riemann's Dictionary. 

Even a brief survey such as the above must contain some 
reference to Dostoevsky. It is true that his influence on Mussorgsky 
was of another order, and will be more profitably considered in 
relation to the psychology of Boris Godunof As regards realism and 
empiricism, however, Lapshin^^ appositely quotes the following 
passage from Dostoevsky's diary: "People call me a psychologist. 
They are wrong : I am simply a realist in the higher sense of the 
term." His views on the value of graphic, realistic suggestion are 
illustrated by his saying to a writer who had described the throwing 
of pennies to an organ man in the street below: "I want to hear 
that penny hopping and thinking" (quoted in J. Middleton 
Murry's The Problem of Style, London, 1922). 

This evidence is conclusive enough. It shows all Mussorgsky's 
ideals formulated clearly and fully. But it remained for him to 
find his own solution of the musical problems confronting him. 
What, exactly, were these problems ? Ever since Stassof bestowed 
upon him the epithet 'realist', people have gone on repeating it for 
purposes of praise or blame, or even of definition pure and simple, 



without ever troubling to inquire into the meaning of the term. 
The Encyclopaedia Britannica sums up current definitions as follows : 
"Realism, in art, is opposed to idealism in various senses. The 
realist artist is: (i) he who deliberately declines to select his 
subjects from the beautiful or harmonious, and more especially 
he who describes ugly things and brings out details of an unsavoury 
sort;* (2) he who deals with individuals, not types; (3) most 
properly, he who strives to represent facts exactly as they are." 

The definition will become more accurate if we add that realism 
is also opposed to formalism (in a sense which will be explained 
presently) and to romanticism (taken as implying sentimental or 
melodramatic treatment and magnification). It is incredible that 
critically minded writers could ever have accepted the first 
meaning, which is in flagrant contradiction with the trend. 
Representing facts as they really are means exaggerating neither 
their beautiful nor their ugly features. Bielinsky praised Gogol for 
having depicted "ordinary human beings, not pleasant exceptions 
only". Had the doctrine of ugliness being the necessary condition 
of realism existed in his time, he surely would have added "nor 
unpleasant exceptions". When Seailles (in Le genie dans I' art) 
averred that "realism never exists: that which is given this name 
is, as often as not, an idealization of the ugly", he failed to take 
into account that there might be no idealization either way. 
Idealizing methods remain exactly the same whether applied to 
the beautiful or to the ugly. A rose-garden may be described 
realistically, and a sewer idealistically and romantically (cases in 
point in Zola's novels leap to the mind). The one humorous, 
unsavoury detail in Rembrandt's 'Ganymed' does not make for 
realism in the aesthetic sense any more than the depiction of a 
company of gods and goddesses preparing to welcome the new- 
comer to Olympus would necessarily make for idealization. And 
if Mussorgsky's evocations of peasants and humble folk are realistic 
par excellence, it is because of their conception and execution, not on 
account of their subjects. 

Indeed, an artist, be he writer or painter or musician, may 
select a most definitely realistic subject (say, in accordance with the 
second definition above, and not a type — one, moreover, in which 
all the conflicting or irrelevant features which co-exist in reality 
are present) ; he may have a thoroughly realistic vision of it — 

* Riesemann^^ quotes this first definition but not the following two, thereby 
greatly simplifying matters for himself. 



that is one which will embrace all its features, exaggerating or 
belittling none — and yet fail to give us a realistic presentment of it. 
The truth of the matter is that the essential is the method of 
interpretation, the treatment. 

All arts proceed by some kind of interpretation and formaliza- 
tion — that is, selection, elimination, and marshalling of features. 
Formalization unavoidably tends to create set forms and set 
relations within these, to extend and generalize expression rather 
than to foster the specificness which is the aim of realism. There- 
fore, the ideal of realism is a maximum of efficiency in veracity, 
and a minimum of formalization. The realistic artist is he who 
aims at accurate expression, not generalized expression; and, 
when he has achieved it, does not attempt to add to it. He does not 
indulge in comments upon the emotions which his subjects arouse 
in him. The one order of emotions which he tries to communicate 
is that which he finds in the character of his subjects. And so he 
places in the foreground these subjects (the cause of his emotions) 
and not his reactions to them, trusting that this will be the surest 
way of communicating the right kind of emotion. No other way of 
representing facts as they really are is conceivable in art. 

This is exactly the realism which the Russian writers stood for, 
and which Mussorgsky aimed at in turn. But his critics have not 
made clear whether he was a realistic composer, or simply a 
composer and a realist. Had they tried to do so, they would have 
found themselves compelled to thrash out the questions : can musical 
realism exist ? and if so, what does it consist in ? And they would 
have discovered that it can and does exist — only within certain 
limits, but still as a definite and special type ; and that it had been 
the ideal of many composers before Mussorgsky. 

Only two kinds of instrumental music can aim at "representing 
facts as they really are". The first is generally called imitative 
music. This again is a term which most writers use loosely. Admit- 
ting that it should apply exclusively to music whose sounds and 
rhythms aim at imitating other sounds and sonorous rhythms,* it 
stands to reason that the utmost a composer can do in this line is 
to invent suitable small imitative units or motifs, which must be 
either not worked out at all or worked out in exactly the same way 
as the most abstract motifs would be. The imitative principle can 
give us lovely things such as the rustling leaves in Wagner's 
*Waldweben'; inane and atrocious things such as the bleating 

* On this point, see the present writer's article on programme music. ^^ 



sheep in Strauss's Don Quixote) and things that are neither good 
nor bad in themselves, and should be judged solely by what the 
composer does with them, as the anvils in Rheingold. In other words 
the question is hardly worth considering. 

Far more important is the realistic process which might be 
labelled imitation in the sonorous rhythms of music, of non- 
sonorous rhythms; or, more properly, rhythmic transposition. 
Physiology teaches us that motions (and also shapes) are perceived 
not by the visual sense alone, but by the visual and the muscular 
sense jointly; because the eye must move in order to perceive them. 
So the shape (or design) and rhythm of motion, which take place 
in space and time jointly, naturally become object-models of 
which music can provide close equivalents in its own designs and 
rhythms. Again, the range of possibilities extends from the crudest 
to the most subtle. A famous instance of the former is the figure 
in one of Kuhnau's Bible Sonatas (1700), representing the 
swinging of David's sling and the flight of the stone. Strauss 
represents Don Quixote thrown by the windmill in almost exactly 
the same way. There are in Mussorgsky's output two evocations of 
the movement of writing : quietly carried on in Boris Godunof, 

Ex.10 -—^^ «-_ 


erratic and flustered in Kkovanshchina, 


i c^p^:]rȣi|- i 

Human motion, a gesture, is often determined by, and very often 
associated with human emotion. Therefore, music may naturally 
correspond to it from the expressive as well as from the matter-of- 
fact rhythmic point of view. Indeed, as often as not, it can hardly 
do the one without the other. The realistic artist, not being primarily 
concerned with expressing emotions, may set out to achieve as 
accurate and graphic musical equivalents of gestures as possible 
without giving a thought to their dramatic or pathetic associations : 
but the result may be most suggestive and moving from the purely 
musical point of view. The above examples are cases in point: 



Mussorgsky could hardly have done better had he set out to 
express, without any idea of realistic imitation, on the one hand 
the serene, austere mood of the monk Pimen at work on his 
chronicle, and, on the other hand, the terror of the scribe com- 
pelled to write a letter of denunciation which may mean his 
death. Here we clearly see how the realist in the higher sense of 
the term becomes a psychologist. 

In fact, it may easily happen that listeners or students will 
overlook the realistic evocation: the present writer never noticed 
it until his attention was called to it by his colleague Gerald 
Abraham. But in the face of the evidence (which includes direc- 
tions in the score) it is impossible to deny that in both instances 
Mussorgsky did actually think first and foremost of the motion of 
the writing hand. That he should have done so is quite natural: 
there is plenty of evidence that his imagination was fundamentally 
of the visual-motion type. (This thesis^^ was accepted by Lapshin^^ 
and Gliebof.) 

And this helps us to understand how he came to develop so 
great a capacity for strikingly graphic evocation, his realistic 
processes always remaining under control of his sense of character 
and of fitness generally. "Nothing matters", he once wrote to 
Stassof, "provided the result is musical and artistic". 

Here again, realism provides nothing but principles ap- 
plicable to the construction of small units, and independent 
creative imagination has to do the rest. There is no need to carry 
this investigation of realism in instrumental music any further: 
it is chiefly in Mussorgsky's vocal and dramatic compositions that 
we see it at work. For a while, his belief in the capacity of instru- 
mental music for circumstantial, elaborate, and prolonged descrip- 
tion may have been as strong as that of Berlioz and, later, Richard 
Strauss: his letter to Nikolsky on 'The Witches' (see p. 73) seems 
to indicate as much. But this was but a transient phase. 

In vocal and especially in dramatic music, realism consists in 
true, direct characterization, founded on a thorough under- 
standing of what is to be observed in life, and a scrupulous choice 
of the closest, tersest, and simplest possible equivalents — imagina- 
tion, of course, having the last say. So far as possible, declamation 
will follow the rhythms and intonations of human speech. The 
co-operating instrumental music will provide other elements of 
characterization and directly relevant suggestions — indications 
of bearing, movements, and so on. As early as the sixteenth 



century, composers of vocal music had begun to experiment in 
that direction, "marking typical attitudes and gestures, and aptly 
translating them into music". ^* Later, instrumental music 
followed suit. 

The notion that declamation, dramatic or lyrical, should be 
modelled upon the natural flow of speech was formulated before 
opera came into being. It is set forth in Orazio Vecchi's preface to 
his Amfiparnasso (1594). It governed the experiments of the 
Florentine cenacolo which created the stilo recitativo. Vincenzo 
Galilei, in his Dialoghi della Musica antica e moderna (Florence, 1602), 
inveighed against the traditions of *gothic counterpoint' and 
preached a return to a simplicity the model of which, he averred, 
was to be found in old Greek art — an art whose tradition the 
'barbarians', the mediaeval contrapuntists, had destroyed. A 
passage in the introduction describes "men fallen into a heavy 
lethargy of ignorance devoid of all desire to acquire knowledge, 
knowing as much of music as they did of the West Indies, obstinate 
in their blindness until the moment when a few men started trying 
to enlighten them". Galilei and Count Bardi, the leader of the 
cenacolo, devoted much time and labour to creating a 'representa- 
tive style' of singing. The first result of these labours, Galilei's 
setting of Ugolino's lament in Dante's Divina Commedia (this 
earliest example of stilo rappresentativo has not reached us) delighted 
the Bardi circle, but "stirred violent discussions, and great anger 
among the musicians of the old school. These musicians scoffed 
at the reformers' pretension to do away with all the resources of 
musical art for the sake of formless, amateurish babble". ^^'^^ 
(This might be a description of the attitude of the musicians of the 
old school to Mussorgsky's music — see infra, chapters XI and 

Caccini, in his Nuove Musiche (Florence, 1601) expressed his 
desire to invent a style of singing which would be "speech in 
music, and in music whose composition and interpretation would 
depend far more upon intelligence of the ideas and words than 
upon knowledge of counterpoint". Riemann, in his Dictionary 
(article on 'Opera'), notes his careful avoidance of set forms. Peri, 
assisted by his friends Rinuccini the poet and Corsi the composer, 
aimed at creating "a style more elaborate than that of ordinary 
speech, less formalized than actual song, and so standing midway" 
(Preface to his opera Euridice, 1600). He studied "the intonations 
of the Italian language, the character acquired by the human 



voice under the influence of passions ; the first result of this work 
was the opera Dafne (1594, not preserved). Bardi praised him for 
having achieved, by very simple means, an exact imitation of 
everyday speech" .^^ Gagliano, in the preface to his own Dafne 
(Florence, 1608), "lays stress on the value of good, realistic acting, 
in which all gestures agree with the music. The chorus plays a live 
and important part in this opera; in the final scene, it becomes the 
principal character". ^^ Monteverdi, "although more interested 
in purely musical devices, was yet concerned with imitating 
human feelings; we see him constantly seeking and finding 
picturesque expressive effects, new rhythms and tone-colours, and 
above all things movement and variety. Artusi's famous criticism 
of his music, although excessive, accurately emphasizes certain of 
its idiosyncrasies which are both defects and qualities. Monteverdi, 
fascinated by the life around him, over-eager to translate its 
pulse into music, and lacking the rich and supple technique which 
later masters were to command, did not always achieve perfect 
order. . . . He was ever striving to sum up characters or passions in 
melodic phrases. Dramatic melody, and not simply the recitative, 
is the basis of his operas. In proportion as he advanced in age, his 
interest in realism increased. He gave us with U Incoronazione di 
Popped, the first example of the most realistic form of operatic 
art: the historic opera". ^^ 

All this comes very close to Mussorgsky's theory and practice. 
In France, too, the idea had been in the air ever since Jean Antoine 
de Baif, in his preamble to a scheme for the foundation of an 
Academy of poetry and music submitted to King Charles IX (the 
Academy was founded in 1570), proclaimed that "the ideal of 
musical art was to represent speech in accomplished harmony 
and melody of song, so as to produce the effects required by the 
words". ^® It provided the basis of Lully's study of stage-declama- 
tion, of his strictly syllabic, unadorned, recitative style, of his 
experiments in changes of metre. It accounts for Destouches's 
occasional practice of "using chords at times boldly dissonant — 
for specific expressive purposes, regardless of their relations to the 
tonal scheme". ^^ It is expressed in the writings of many theorists, 
from Lecerf de la Vieville to Rousseau, and it became the leitmotive, 
so to speak, of the literature of the 'querelle des bouffons' and of 
the Gluck-Puccini controversy. It is set forth in Gretry's Memoirs. 
And both Rameau and Gluck preached and practised it. 

The former's writings teem with remarks such as: " song must 





Mily Balakircf 


imitate speech; one must appear to be speaking, not singing. A 
good composer must merge himself in every character he depicts. 
When at work, he should forget all rules that might enslave his 
genius and become useful only when his genius and his ear prove 
unable to give him what he is aiming at." He despised "the school 
that deals in notes and notes only, sacrificing sense, feeling, and 
reason" (letter to Houdard de la Motte^^). Gluck, in his preface to 
Alceste (1769), explained that "he had sought to reduce music to its 
true function : that of seconding poetry with the object of reinforcing 
the expression of feelings and the interest of situations without 
interrupting the action or burdening it with superfluous arguments ; 
and had willingly sacrificed every conceivable rule for the sake of 
effectiveness." In the dedicatory epistle to Paride ed Elena he 
reverted to the last point, inveighing against "the pedants who 
dissected his scores in order to find infractions of theoretical 
rules". Elsewhere he declared that "when starting work, his first 
concern was to forget that he was a composer". Gevaert, in his 
re-edition of Iphigenie en Aulide (Lemoine, Paris), points out that 
"here, no concession is made to musical amplifications, to poly- 
phonic working-out, or to beauty of tone. Everything that would 
merely tend to round oflf, to adorn, or stand merely as frame- 
work is systematically ignored." 

Again most of the passages quoted (be they declarations of 
principles or descriptions and assessments of results ) might apply 
almost word for word to Mussorgsky as revealed in his music and 
his correspondence. No undue value should be ascribed to the 
resemblance, but it is worth noting. Two useful points emerge 
from the above summary survey: firstly, that in Mussorgsky's 
time there was nothing novel in the idea of realism, of 'truth before 
beauty' in music; and secondly, that the realistic principle has a 
value of its own, and also limitations which for an unimaginative 
composer would be no less deadening than the limitations of 
school routine: creative imagination alone can transcend either 
order of limitation. That Mussorgsky, starting from the realistic 
principle, should often have proceeded in exactly the same way as 
composers of past periods who had nourished similar ambitions is 
instructive, provided we do not misinterpret the plain fact. It is 
hardly needful to point out that he knew very little of old music 
and theories generally (except Gluck's), and certainly nothing of 
the Florentine cenacolo, de Baif, or even Rameau. All in his musical 
processes that resembles theirs — musical discourse based on 




speech, unusual chords resorted to for their expressive, not their 
tonal value, changes of meter and rhythm, avoidance of mere 
formal devices, and so on — was spontaneously rediscovered by 
him under the influence of his realistic intentions. For this reason, 
such parallelisms as can be discovered are all the more interesting. 
They show that the positive consequences of the realistic principle 
are practically constants, but neither many nor very far-reaching. 
The principle itself, in music, leads nowhere in particular and may 
lead almost anywhere. Its main advantage is that it prescribes the 
avoidance of flagrant artifices of formalization, of abstract methods 
of working-out, of exaggeration and embellishment. One might 
say that it is more positive in its prohibitions than in its actual 

In other words, it is no more fertile than it is sterile. It is worth 
exactly what the practice is, neither more nor less. The realistic 
aims of Dargomyjsky's Stone Guest add no more to its artistic value 
than the absence of such aims detracts from the artistic value of 
Mozart's Don Giovanni. The realistic theory may help to account 
for a good many factors in Mussorgsky's music, but not in the least 
for the one and only factor that really matters — the Mussorgsky 
factor. The music of Mussorgsky in his maturity owes its signifi- 
cance, not to the fact that he aimed at realism, but to the fact that 
he was endowed with genius. This genius of his asserts itself no 
less typically and convincingly in works such as the song-set 
Sunless, whose lack of realism Cui and Stassof were to perceive 
quite rightly, and foolishly to deplore. But there can be no question 
that even there he benefited by the habit he had developed of 
submitting his methods to searching criticism, of avoiding, not 
only approximations and commonplaces, but also much that other 
composers might have been tempted to do for purely musical 
reasons, for the sake of beautification, rounding-oflf, or self- 
display. And, when we observe in his music realistic features, we 
realize that the principle served a good purpose as soon as we feel 
at the same time that the results are satisfying as music, music that 
lives its own life and speaks its own language, music instinct with 
the autonomous significance which the realistic principle seemed 
to negate. That these qualities are present in Mussorgsky's music 
is a point upon which those of us who first became acquainted 
with his songs and Boris Godunof without knowing a word of 
Russian, at a time when no translations were available, could 
speak feelingly. 



To sum up : apart from feeling confirmed in his ambition to be, 
first and last, a true Russian, he learnt, under these various 
influences, to observe reality closely, seeking its exact equivalent 
in music, and to study the people around him; to study them as 
human beings and individuals, lovingly to investigate "the subtle 
idiosyncrasies of individuals and crowds";* and above all, of 
the humble people, whose depiction plays so great a part in his 
mature works. 

No sign of either inclination appears in anything he turned out 
before 1864. Nothing of the kind had ever been done in song or in 
opera. And Savishna's wooer, the peasant mothers rocking their 
babies to sleep ('Yeremushka', 'The Peasant's Lullaby') the care- 
free 'Kallistrat', the people in Boris Godunof^ are not only unique 
and inimitable but so vivid-limned by Mussorgsky's music as to 
be realistic figures par excellence. 

He had also developed a capacity for writing suitable texts: 
the words of 'Savishna', 'The Seminarist', 'The Ragamuffin', 
'The He-Goat', and 'The Classicist' were of his own devising. 
'Savishna' was a special case from both the literary and the 
musical points of view, since his purpose in it had been to evoke 
not an imaginary scene but a scene actually witnessed. But 'The 
Seminarist' and 'The Ragamuffin' suffice to show his gift for racy 
and imaginative evocations in words. 

His work on the libretto and music of Salammbo was useful 
practice and contributed, no doubt, to ripen his ideas on dramatic 
music, but he still stood in need of experience in the handling of 
dramatic dialogue. This he was to acquire in 1 868 by his work on 
Gogol's comedy The Marriage. 

* Letter to V. Stassof, 18 October, 1872. 



Mussorgsky sets to music an act of GogoVs comedy The 

Marriage — His enthusiasms — His decision not to proceed 

further — His dissertations on aesthetics — The music o/The 

Marriage — Life with the Opotchinins — Pen-portraits by 

friends — Starts work on Boris Godunof 

THE year 1868 was one of great activity and high hopes for the 
nationaHst Russian composers, especially in the domain of opera. 
Balakiref had not yet given up the idea of The Fire-Bird, an opera 
which he had begun planning in 1863 and for which he had com- 
posed, Rimsky-Korsakof records, very lovely music. Cui was 
finishing Ratcliffe, Borodin had been working at The Tsar'^s 
Bride, and, having lost interest in this subject, had just taken up 
Prince Igor, Rimsky-Korsakof had begun The Maid of Pskof; and 
Dargomyjsky was hard at work on The Stone Guest, which was 
arousing great excitement throughout the circle. 

All this was most stimulating for Mussorgsky, who with his 
songs had already progressed far along his chosen path, but had 
not been fortunate in the matter of opera. He was in excellent 
health, mental and physical (the days of intemperance lay far 
behind, the last outbreak having been in 1865), buoyant, and 
sure of himself. His friends no longer regarded him as a more or 
less irresponsible or feeble-minded junior, but watched his work 
with ever-increasing interest. During the winter and early spring, 
he turned out 'The Orphan', 'A Child's Song', 'Yeremushka's 
Lullaby', and 'With Nanny', the first of the Nursery set. These 
last two he inscribed to Dargomyjsky, whom in the dedication of 
'With Nanny' he hailed as "the great teacher of musical truth". 
He orchestrated the accompaniments of the earlier 'Hopak' and 
'Night'. In February 'The He-Goat' and 'Hopak' were sung in 
public by Sariotti and Leonova respectively. In June he began 
setting to music Gogol's The Marriage, an amusing comedy, in 
prose, of the everyday life of the Russian middle classes — a bold 
venture suggested to him "by Dargomyjsky in jest, and by Cui in 



all seriousness" (see infra, p. io8). He gave up the notion after 
having composed one act of it, and started work upon Boris 
Godunof which was to be his masterpiece, in the early autumn. 
By that time he had found a congenial home in the house of his 
friends Alexander and Nadejda Opotchinin, where he was to 
spend three happy years. In December he was reinstated in the 
service, with the rank of assistant head-clerk in the Forestry 
Department of the Ministry of State Domains. 

The composition of The Marriage marked a turning-point in his 
career. On the face of it, it may seem a pity that he should have 
devoted so much of his energies to a task which he was soon to give 
up as impracticable: but the work helped him to sort out and 
improve his methods, and adjust them to the requirements of the 
stage. Gogol's comedy, slight, and not aiming at psychological 
profundity, but live, racy and thoroughly Russian, with its brisk, 
straightforward dialogue, afforded plenty of opportunities for a 
composer intent on musical characterization and on discovering 
musical equivalents of human speech; and it provided the best 
possible training for him. 

On the artistic value of the one act Mussorgsky finished, 
opinions vary greatly, as will presently appear : but that the music 
is live and significant enough to exercise a strong, and indeed 
tantalizing appeal, is proved by the fact that of late years three 
composers in turn — Ippolitof-Ivanof, Alexander Tcherepnin, 
and, in Holland, Daniel Ruijneman — have undertaken to com- 
plete the unfinished score. 

A summary analysis of this first act will help one to understand 
the allusions and quotations in Mussorgsky's letters referring to 
his work. 

The first of the four scenes it comprises shows the foolish, vain 
Podkolessin, a government clerk who wishes to get married but is 
unable to make up his mind on the matter, now thinking over his 
plans, now questioning his loutish, sorely tried servant Stepan. 
Did not the tailor who is making the new dress-coat, and the 
dealer from whom a supply of the best boot-polish has been 
bought, ask whether the gentleman was contemplating marriage ? 
Is any other coat which the tailor has in hand as fine as the one 
ordered by Podkolessin? The coming of the marriage-broker, 
Fiocla, a garrulous old woman who has been calling for months 
without advancing matters, enables Stepan to escape further 
questioning. Again (scene 2) she fails to persuade Podkolessin 



despite her alluring description of the bride-to-be and of her 
dowry. "If you hesitate much longer," she tells him, "you may 
never find a wife : already your hair is turning grey." He jumps up, 
dismayed and angry, to see in a looking-glass whether the shocking 
assertion can be true. 

At this juncture (scene 3) enters Kotchkaref, a friend of 
Podkolessin's, whose marriage was arranged by Fiocla and has 
proved a failure. He is maliciously eager to lure Podkolessin into 
the trap; and, having driven Fiocla away, he proceeds (scene 4) 
to depict in glowing terms the bliss of married life, and half-coaxes, 
half-bullies, Podkolessin into preparing to pay a visit to the 

Mussorgsky began setting this first act on 11/23 June in town, 
and within a few days had written out the first act in vocal score 
form. Then he left for Shilovo where he spent the whole summer, 
and continued working there. According to the dates in the manu- 
script, the second scene was finished on 2/14 July, and the whole 
act on 8/20 July. His letters to Cui, Rimsky-Korsakof, and others 
express his delight in the congenial subject, his buoyancy while at 
work, his conception of his task and his convictions that he had 
fulfilled it successfully. 

To Cui he wrote, on 3/15 July: 

My dear Cesar, greeting! Here I am, turned out to grass en forme et 
mature : I live in a cottage, drink milk, remain all day long in the open 
air, and am not taken back to my stall until night falls. Barely a day 
or two before my sad departure (sad, because I did not see you before 
leaving) I finished the first scene of The Marriage, The first act is divided 
into three scenes: the first with Stepan, the second with the broker, the 
third with Kotchkaref. Guided by your observations and Dargomyjsky's, 
I have greatly simplified what I had shown you. I have devised for 
Podkolessin a very satisfactory orchestral phrase, which will be most 
useful for the proposal scene : 


ir fr 

Dargomyjsky, apparently, is quite pleased with it. It crops up for 
the first time in the course of Podkolessin's talk with Stepan, under the 
words: "And did he not ask . . ." (referring to the marriage, in short). 
As you see, it is but a fragment of a theme. The whole theme will 
appear in the third act, at the moment of the formal proposal — that is, 



when Podkolessin has made up his mind to get married. It will be easy 
to express, with its help, his stupid confusion. I have hit upon a good 
sally for Stepan. When his master calls him for the third time, he comes 
forward sulkily, although, of course, careful to hide his annoyance. 
And barely has Podkolessin uttered the words: "I wanted to ask you, 
broker, whether . . .", than he snaps out, fortissimo : "The old woman is 
here!" thus putting an end to his master's wearisome questions. 

The second scene is outlined in rough draft. "Only curs lie!" and 
"grey hair" have come out well. The little scene, I think, is good and 
interesting. At the end Podkolessin's bear-like fussing about, at the 
words "grey hair", is very curiously dealt with. Now I am tackling 
Kotchkaref All told, this first act, in my opinion, may be regarded as 
an experiment in opera dialogue. I should like to have it ready before 
winter. Then we may judge competently. K.otchksLref^ sera fait specialement 
pour vous, mon cher. Tell your dear wife that the scene with Fiocla is a 
success : she will be glad. All thanks to her for her sympathetic interest 
in my rash undertaking. 

Just now, contrary to my usual practice, I begin with a rough draft, 
because I have no piano. I'll set the thing in order when I come back 
to town. As I don't know whether Korsinka is still there or has sailed 
"towards the icy rocks of Finland" to cool down the fiery "Antar",* 
I pray you, dear friend, to read this scrawl of mine to him if he is 

Now what about yourself? Comment cela va-t-il avec la versification? 
Are we not a blessed little circle ? Whenever we run short of texts, we 
make shift to turn them out ourselves — and not so badly either. Have 
you advanced the scoring much? How goes it with the final draft? 
In my opera dialogue, I do my utmost to note down clearly those changes 
of intonation that crop up in human conversation for the most futile 
causes, on the most insignificant words — changes in which lies, I think, 
the power of Gogol's humour. For instance, in the first scene, Stepan's 
tone changes suddenly from ingratiating to sullen when his master 
starts fussing about the boot-polish. Fiocla is ever jumping from 
boastful chatter to rudeness or to testy sallies. Anyhow, you will judge 
for yourself. 

Postscript, July i o : The posting of this letter was most opportunely 
delayed. The first act is finished. It rained for three days without a 
break, and I worked without a break, so accustomed are we to fall into 
line with the weather. The Marriage gave me no peace, and now I have 
finished. Instead of three scenes, there are four: it was unavoidable. 
Now the weather is fine again, and I am resting. 

On 30 July/ 1 1 August, he wrote to Rimsky-Korsakof: 

* The descriptive symphony which Rimsky-Korsakof was engaged in composing. 



If you have seen Cui, you will know that the first act of The Marriage 
is finished. And if you know this, you cannot doubt that I have been 
working hard. Cui has annoyed me by not replying to my letter. When 
I receive no reply, being suspicious by nature in a way of my own, I 
imagine that I may have been doing something wrong. When I develop 
such misgivings, I grow worried, and when I am worried I grow angry. 
You will easily realize how unpleasant such a situation can be. . . . 
Tell me all about Antar and the scene from The Maid of Pskof. I left 
town without taking leave either of you or of Cui. I went to see him twice 
without finding him at home. I had to leave in a hurry because my 
brother, in whose house I am living, had to return to town without 
delay. And as this is my first visit to the Tula country, it was needful 
for me to find my way about and to select my accommodation : for we 
live a very countrified life here, with as much comfort as possible under 
very unfavourable conditions. The place is getting organized, however, 
because we have a railway line. Before that, one had to live more or 
less the life of a bailiff'. 

I have been surveying my first act. It is, I feel, carried out interestingly 
enough, but who can tell? I have done my best, it will be for you to 
judge the result. I stand in the dock, and have but one thing to say: 
if you forget all operatic traditions and think of musical dialogue 
carried out on the stage without ever a second thought or a trace of 
self-consciousness, then The Marriage is an opera. I mean that if the 
expression in tone of human thought and feeling as it takes place in 
ordinary conversation is accurately reproduced in music, and if the 
reproduction is musicianly and artistic, then the deed is done. To 
judge whether I have succeeded or not is your business, not mine. I 
shall await the verdict stoically. 

The task was no easy one. I forged ahead with a will: it just happened 
that way, but I must add that the task proved most stimulating. 
Whenever I hear people speaking, whoever is speaking, and, above all, 
whatever is said, a musical equivalent of what I hear takes shape in 
my mind. Now, I am resting, but that is no good: I cannot find peace. 

The same day he wrote to Liudmila Shestakova: 

I am thinking of the second act of The Marriage but not putting down 
details yet, not being in the mood for it. Some day or other the right 
mood will come, no doubt. I am observing characteristic types of 
peasants. Men and women alike are well worth studying. How many 
fresh, racy aspects of the Russian people remain overlooked by art! 
A few scraps of what life brought to me I have turned into musical 
imagery for the benefit of those whom I love and who love me. If God 
grants me health and strength, I shall have a lot to say — but after 
finishing The Marriage. I have now crossed the Rubicon: and The 



Marriage is a cage in which I must remain imprisoned until I have 
learnt my lesson. I wish my characters to speak on the stage exactly 
as people speak in everyday life, and my music to be an artistic repro- 
duction of their speech in every one of its particulars ; I want the tones 
of human speech, which is the external manifestation of thoughts and 
feelings, to become, without being in any way exaggerated or distorted, 
truthful, accurate, and so supremely artistic music. Such is my ideal 
('Savishna', 'The Orphan', 'Yeremushka', 'The Child'). Now I am at 
work on The Marriage. The effectiveness of Gogol's dialogue depends 
entirely upon the actors, upon the exactness of their intonation. I aim 
at supplying the right intonation, by means of music which will make 
it impossible to go wrong. This is why I regard The Marriage as my 
Rubicon; it is live prose in music. Not for me the casual attitude of 
our musician poets to plain human speech, free from heroics. 

Letters written on 15/27 August to Cui, Rimsky-Korsakof, 
and Nikolsky are equally characteristic of his frame of mind. 
To Cui (from whom he had received a reply in the meantime) : 

I have tidied up all I had composed, and am learning it by heart in 
order to be able to show it to you. To learn by heart without using the 
piano is more difficult than to compose. I shall be back in a week. 
Just now I am resting; or rather, thinking out the second act. I shall 
not start writing anything down until I feel the character of the trades- 
people at the beginning of this act and the scene with Jevakin and 
Yaitchnitsa coming out in colours as adequate as those I succeeded in 
finding for Kotchkaref and Fiocla. A good deal is already taking shape. 
I have been observing peasants, men and women, and discovering 
most appetizing types. One man is the very image of Anthony in 
Shakespeare's Julius Caesar — Anthony in the forum, delivering his 
speech by Caesar's corpse: a wise, original, sly mujik he is. All this will 
be useful to me. And the female types: pure gems! Such is my way: 
I watch all manner of people, and when the time comes, I limn them. 
It is great fun. 

To Rimsky-Korsakof: 

I have been bringing into order the second, third, and fourth scenes 
of the first act, composed here in the country. I have done this in un- 
expected circumstances : for the first time in my life, I composed without 
the help of an instrument: that is, without being able to test what I had 
written. I thought that in a matter such as musical prose, which 
implies strangely erratic harmonic conditions, I might not succeed 
without the help of an instrument. But having received your letter 
and Cui's, I developed a burning thirst for order, and forthwith copied 



out all I had composed. To do so proved possible because there were 
no errors; and so, as soon as the manuscript is bound, I shall be able to 
show it to you, dear friend. Now I am having a go at learning it by 
heart. It is rather fun. The second act is taking shape in my mind, but 
I have not actually started composing it: the time has not yet come. 
Patience ! Otherwise, I might lapse into uniformity of inflexion — the 
worst of sins in so whimsical a thing as The Marriage. The bride-to-be's 
divination by cards and Jevakin are already shaping. 

Rimsky-Korsakof 's letter to which this is a reply gave particulars 
of his work, and especially of his plans for the finale of Antar. So 
Mussorgsky proceeded to discuss his friend's ideas with great 
vigour. That part of his letter, which is most revealing, will be 
quoted presently. 

Writing to Nikolsky, he gave free rein to his dreams and also 
to his ingenuous pride in his latest progress. 

The Greeks deified nature, man included: and the grandest poetry 
and art were the outcome. Man is the highest organism in nature: 
alone on earth he has the gift of speech. If by artistically reproducing 
human speech, with all its subtle and capricious shades, it is possible to 
achieve results as natural as the model itself, would this lead to some- 
thing like a deification of man's gift of speech ? If by so doing — using 
only the simplest means under the rigorous control of the artistic 
instinct — it is possible to reach the heart, is this not worth doing ? And 
if it is thus possible to capture the actual functioning of the mind at 
critical moments, is this not worth doing ? 

You have to prepare a soup before you cook it. In other words: 
as I am preparing for that task, if only by setting to music Gogol's 
Marriage — a most tricky aflfair for a musical setting — is it not worth 
while doing the job thoroughly, and trying to get as near as possible 
to the wonderful, sacred goal? 

Of course the retort might be : why always talk of getting ready ? 
It is high time to carry something through. Well : I began getting ready 
by composing small things. Now, Gogol's Marriage serves as a further 
preparation. When shall I be ready at last? All I can say is, it must 
needs be : perhaps a time will come when I shall be ready. 

I began with small things, it is true: but no need to be ashamed of 
it. They gave me a name with a narrow circle, but not a circle of 
narrow-minded people. They even induced men of no small standing 
in the world of music to assign to me a task unexampled in the history 
of the art : that of setting to music prose straight out of life, of turning 
out musical prose. 

How difficult the task was is illustrated by what has befallen my 



humble self. I have composed a whole act-length of musical prose. 
This act, I think, is a success; but I don't know how the remaining 
three will go. I know that they will have to be good, but not whether 
they can be good. Anyhow, I must finish what I have started and 
then stand my trial. 

These letters are most important for students of Mussorgsky's 
psychology, on account of the light they cast on his artistic ideals, 
his starting points, and also his character. They reveal to the full 
his excessive sensitiveness, his love for, and faith in, his friends, 
and the importance which, despite his uncompromising convic- 
tions, he ascribed to winning their approval. As a set-off against his 
childlike delight in having been entrusted by Dargomyjsky and 
Cui with the task of setting The Marriage, and so bringing into 
being a new genre, musical prose, there is his consciousness that 
this, perhaps, is only a further step towards a goal that stands still 
far, although no longer out of sight. And his "why always be 
talking of getting ready instead of accomplishing something?" 
is a shrewd piece of self-criticism. There is wisdom, too, in his 
reply to it. He shows, behind his excitability, a good measure of 
self-possession, and also a sense of proportion. He is no longer 
the youth of i860, who "felt he had already done quite a lot for 
Russian music". 

There is a good deal of wisdom, too, in his high-flown criticism 
of the plan for the Antar finale and even in the disquisition that 

Rimsky-Korsakof had written to him : 

I am now orchestrating 'The joys of power' [the third movement]. 
As you know, my object is to draw a picture of oriental power rather 
than to express the feeling of power in the abstract. . . . The movement 
ends in D major. Then I am thinking of giving the fourth movement 
(the joys of love) a short introduction based upon the main theme of 
the introduction in the first. 

This will recall the evocation of the Ruins and the Kingdom of the 
Peri; and it will form a good transition from the D major in which the 
third movement ends to the D flat of the fourth. 

Balakiref will hate 'The joys of vengeance' and be dissatisfied with 
'The joys of power', because I do not evoke the latter in a full-size 
Allegro with plenty of symphonic working-out of the themes. But I shall 
alter nothing, because I feel I have expressed the idea well. Symphonic 
working out is not always suitable or desirable. 

Mussorgsky took these mild statements as a text for a sermon 



whose length and vehemence must have surprised Rimsky- 
Korsakof considerably. 

As regards your intentions for 'Power', I have no objection: I consider 
that Eastern power, in its external manifestations, is not a topic incom- 
patible with the requirements of art, because that power has always 
tended to express itself in terms of pomp. But as regards 'Love', I object 
to your idea of an introduction. In my opinion a direct start without 
preamble — such as you had planned first — is more artistic, simpler, 
more sincere. Does really aesthetic taste, after the pompous D major, 
require that A major chord in the horns to lead to the melancholy, 
pathetic D flat major? And it is you, the Glinka of aesthetics (don't 
blush!) who say such a thing! What could be more poetical, after the 
forte D major pomposo (with which, I remember, your third movement 
ends) than the melancholy D flat major straight forth without any 
transition ? If the allusion to the Ruins and the Peri, why not follow 
Senkovsky's original [the poem which had provided the plan for 
Antar] faithfully, and prefix to every movement an introduction on the 
Ruins and the Peri ? And how nonsensical that would be ! My view is : 
the more simply and sincerely you proceed, the better. 'Vengeance' 
without transitionary precautions, 'Power' likewise: why then, for 
'Love', start borrowing from the Germans? This is when I object, and 
I feel I have a right to: remember Sadko and how it ends. Learn that 
after the C sharp minor and D major, D flat major carries the hero 
straight above the clouds into that world of Peris, Houris, and other 
lovely beings where his mind is cleansed and appeased and poetically 
elevated. O transitions ! How many fine things you have ruined ! 

Now, with regard to symphonic working-out : you seem to be appalled 
because you write a la Korsakof and not a la Schumann. Now let me 
tell you (for you rise above fear — vous etes travel) that a Russian dish 
of minced meat and herbs is abomination to a German, whereas we 
eat it with pleasure {point de comparaisons, sHl vous plait : comparaison rCest 
pas raison), whereas the Milchsuppe or Kirschensuppe which the Germans 
enjoy so greatly is abomination to us. In short, symphonic working- 
out, as a technical procedure, is a German product exactly as German 
philosophy — now annihilated by the English psychologists and our 
own Troitsky. A German, when thinking, starts by analysing, and then 
proceeds to demonstrate. Our Russian brother begins by demonstrating, 
and afterwards may amuse himself with analysing. When you showed us 
Antar at Borodin's house, you had not crept up cautiously to 'Love' : 
you are doing so now. I have nothing further to say about symphonic 

But listen, my dear Korsinka: the act of creation carries within 
itself the laws of beauty. Inner criticism verifies these laws; and the 
artist's instinct applies them. Failing either of these elements, there 



can be no artistic creation. The artist is a law unto himself. When an 
artist starts remodelling, it means that he is not satisfied. But when, 
being satisfied, he remodels and maybe spoils a good thing or two in 
the process, he is Germanizing — repeating that which he has already 
said. We are not ruminants, but omnivorous animals: contradiction, 
but natural ! 

"When you start on such a train of thought, alone, at leisure, you 
see exactly what is required ..." [a quotation from The Marriage: 
the opening sentence in the play] to find one's own self. This is the 
hardest of tasks; one achieves it seldom, but it can be done. 

Previous letters had already hinted at his views on his art. 
Here we have a practically complete exposition of his views on 
technique. And there can be no doubt that it was his work on 
The Marriage that compelled him to face his problems boldly and 
solve them uncompromisingly. It is remarkable how thoroughly 
the conditions set by Gogol's prose text precluded all possibility 
of stylization : and not only of the mechanical kind against which 
he so emphatically warned Rimsky-Korsakof, but even of the 
most legitimate kind. Its character and pace allowed neither 
preparing points nor dwelling upon them: each one had to be 
made forthwith or irretrievably missed. Indeed, it must have 
seemed at the time (when the idea of a composer using not a 
formal libretto or even a text written on less conventional lines 
but still with an eye to the musical setting to come, but a play 
pure and simple — let alone a play in prose — was entirely novel) 
that the very possibility not only of logical musical treatment, 
but of elementary co-ordination was ruled out. 

Mussorgsky's views on symphonic working-out, as set forth 
in this letter, had often been quoted; but only the publication of 
his complete correspondence in 1932 revealed that they were 
comments on remarks made by Rimsky-Korsakof and not a 
spontaneous outburst induced by the character of Antar. They 
include much that is as foolish as his rigmarole about German 
philosophy, but also a measure of truth. It is interesting to mark 
that, contrary to what might be surmised on the strength of his 
strictures on working-out, the music of The Marriage owes its firm- 
ness of structure and tightness of texture to the fact that it consists 
mainly of skilfully used thematic patterns and derivations — ^in 
other words, to the application, at times unconscious maybe, but 
certainly more often conscious, of a definite principle of working 
out, further applied in Mussorgsky's masterpiece, Boris Godunof^ 



begun that same year 1868. It is not the least wonderful thing 
about The Marriage that, deahng with the unassuming, simple, 
limited subject lightheartedly and humorously, he should have 
asserted so earnest a purpose that he achieved, for the first time, 
most of the essentials of his art. 

In the course of the autumn, this first act was given several 
times in private at Dargomyjsky's house and elsewhere. Of these 
performances Rimsky-Korsakof gives the following account : 

The Marriage aroused great interest. Every one of us was amazed at 
Mussorgsky's undertaking, delighted with his skilful characterization 
and with many features of his recitative, but baffled by certain chords 
and concatenations. Mussorgsky himself sang the part of Podkolessin 
with all his original and inimitable skill, Alexandra Purgold that of 
Fiocla, Veliaminof that of Stepan; and Dargomyjsky, keenly interested, 
copied out, in his own hand, that of Kotchkaref and sang it with relish. 
All were particularly amused with Fiocla and with Kotchkaref's 
expatiating on "the little rascals, the little copying clerks" [Podkolessin's 
children to come] and with the delightfully characteristic accompani- 
ment. Stassof was enraptured. Dargomyjsky said that Mussorgsky 
had gone rather far. Balakiref and Cui regarded the work as a mere 
curio, with a few interesting features in the declamation. 

Borodin, in a letter to his wife, of 25 September/7 October, 
recorded his impressions thus: ^^The Marriage is an unusually 
curious and paradoxical affair, teeming with innovations and 
intensely humorous points, but, as a whole, une chose manquee, 
impossible in practice." 

So Mussorgsky was disappointed in his hopes: none of his 
friends, except Dargomyjsky and Stassof, really liked The Marriage. 
For the first time since his ambitions had begun to take shape, 
the fact was brought home to him that he could not hope for much 
comprehension on the part of the greater number of them. He 
must have realized it clearly and felt it deeply : for from that time 
onwards, it is only in his letters to the Stassofs and to his women 
friends that confidences as to his plans and sidelights on his work 
appear. It is unlikely that this lack of response had much to do 
with his decision to cast The Marriage aside. Far-fetched reasons 
have been given to account for this decision. Rimsky-Korsakof, 
in his preface to the published edition of 1908, expresses the view, 
justified by the facts and by the letters quoted above, that he 
recognized this work to be a mere experiment which it was not 



needful to carry further; and also the conviction that had 
Mussorgsky reverted to it later, he would have smoothed down 
much of the music, "which", he says, "as it stands, contains much 
that no fastidious ear could accept." Karatyghin, too, taking a 
rather short-sighted view of Mussorgsky's realistic processes in 
The Marriage, argues^® that he soon became dissatisfied with his 

At times, this infallible naturalism is carried so far that it becomes 
freakish and indeed burlesque. The suitor who cannot help lying is 
depicted in emphatically 'false' combinations of sound. Every point of 
married life described by Kotchkaref is imitated : the barking of the 
pet dog, the canary's song, the noisy children — "of whom", Kotchkaref 
says, "there will be not two or three, but a full six", whereupon the 
music echoes the prediction with two semiquavers, a triplet of semi- 
quavers, and a sextuplet. However much we may admire, quite 
rightly, the extraordinary power of invention displayed, however 
much we appreciate single points in this highly skilful achievement, 
we must injustice grant that the work as a whole is one-sided, tenden- 
tious, and that artistically speaking this kind of achievement is funda- 
mentally 'nonsense'. We have the right to conclude that he himself 
judged it quickly and soundly. He wrote one act and left it at that. 
He was most sensitive to inner falsity, which he would discover — even 
in the province of realism — where no one else would have suspected 
it. He wished art to be robust and full-blooded : but whenever he felt 
that excess in this direction risked throwing the live human soul and 
the live soul of art into the background, he was the first to turn away 
from it. 

The facts stated are true: the music does allude to the barking 
dog, the singing bird, and the noisy children, and the forecast 
that these will be six in number runs : 



cresc. sf\ 

^" f ^1 r i' rf ^' ^ 



but sure -ly six of them! 

It is open to doubt whether anyone would notice the *two, 



three, six' effect unless reading the score with the deliberate 
purpose of finding counts of indictment. Triplets in not very 
different arrangements are scattered throughout the score. The 
impression conveyed is not that of enumeration (as, for instance, 
the twelve strokes of the clock in Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande, 
Act ii, scene i ) but, at the end of bar one, that of preparation for 
an increase of emphasis, and at bar two, of an arabesque carried 
to its end in bar three. The passage would sound equally straight- 
forward and appropriate if the words were: "I have said it not 
once, not twice, but over twenty times!" And even, granting that 
Mussorgsky introduced the 'two, three, six' arrangement as 
deliberately as the allusion to the dog, and the canary, let it not 
be forgotten that the work is a comedy after all; the whole score 
is there to show that he did not rely on such effects for his humour, 
nor need them for purposes of characterization. He took them in 
his stride, and expected, quite reasonably, listeners to do the same, 
and to show a sense of proportion. 

But the main reason for rejecting Karatyghin's hypothesis, and 
also Rimsky-Korsakof 's (which is entirely a matter of opinion — 
and Rimsky-Korsakof's attitude to the music of Strauss, 
D'Indy, and Debussy undoubtedly helps to account for the 
line he took) is that at the beginning of 1873 Mussorgsky, 
presenting the manuscript of the first act to Vladimir Stassof, 
wrote to him: 

On the occasion of your name-day, always so dear to me, I am 
thinking of you all the time. And naturally the thought occurs to me, 
how am I to give pleasure to my dear friend ? The reply is, without the 
slightest hesitation — for thus it goes with foolhardy people: "To make 
him a present of my very self". And this I proceed to do. Accept my 
early work on Gogol's Marriage. Examine this experiment in musical 
discourse, compare it with Boris Godunof, put 1868 and 1871 side by 
side, and you will see that what I give you is, irrevocably, my very 
self. I have added the part of Kotchkaref copied by Dargomyjsky, a 
precious token of what he was to us all : he wrote it down despite his 
cruel illness and the calls that The Stone Guest made upon his time. 
I dislike lying hidden, and am convinced that to connoisseurs The 
Marriage will reveal much as to my musical audacities. You know how 
great a store I set by it — learn now that it was suggested to me by 
Dargomyjsky (in earnest) and Cui (in jest). The dates and places are 
recorded, in perfect order. So take me, my dear friend, and do with 
me as you please.* 

* 2/14 January, 1873. 



H. Kmn. 
*MC. H. PtiiHira. 

C. Cut. 

iri de 

j-^ ¥ - :..j^f^^ 1^"^^^^ 


>/>/r CeUr^r^reji: J f?t* •/£,.; ^^^^j^^S^ 

Cesar Cui 

















Mussorgsky would have been the last person in the world to 
describe as "his very self" a work that he had come to regard as 
a still-born experiment, or as standing in need of drastic emenda- 
tion, or as tainted even with the faintest trace of "inner falsity" — 
especially after the experience gained when composing Boris 

To understand why he cast The Marriage aside, it suffices to 
remember his doubts as to the possibility of maintaining an equally 
high level throughout the remaining acts — a frame of mind which 
does not in the least suggest dissatisfaction with what he had done 
so far; and also, that in the autumn of 1868, Nikolsky, in a flash of 
inspiration, suggested to him the idea of composing Boris Godunof 
— a splendid inducement to "stop talking of getting ready, and 
carry something through at last", which drove everything else out 
of his mind. 

From his one act, he derived no benefit whatever, moral or 
practical, except the experience gained. The members of his 
circle were the only people to get acquainted with it, and they 
soon forgot all about it. Maybe he hoped that a chance might come 
to submit it to a wider circle — a wistful hint to that effect may have 
lurked behind his words to Stassof: "I dislike lying hidden ... do 
with me as you please". But this was not to be: nothing more was 
heard of The Marriage during his lifetime and for over a quarter 
of a century after. 

Mussorgsky was thoroughly right in describing The Marriage 
as "irrevocably his very self". Although the music is utterly 
unrelated to Russian folk- music, most of the characteristic features 
of his mature style are present in it. It is as original in conception 
and in execution as it is telling and well suited to its special 
purposes. Its chief merits are admirably defined in an essay by the 
French composer Charles Koechlin {Revue musicale, April, 1923): 

Music that is genuinely and intrinsically comic is incredibly scarce, 
especially in works intended for the stage, in which the usual substitutes 
are mere caricature, parody, and a few more or less picturesque or 
sensational effects. To achieve the real thing calls for as much earnest- 
ness of purpose, conscientiousness, skill, and genius as the highest 
order of music-drama does — and for as subtle and deep psychological 
insight as is displayed by Moliere and Shakespeare. Alone so far 
Mussorgsky, exploiting neither the absurd nor the excessive, but simply 
plain logical truth, has given us a complete, perfect example of genuine, 
pure comic music. 



A moment's reflection will show how true the point is. Ninety- 
nine per cent, of the would-be comic effects in music are invita- 
tions to laugh rather than flights of comic fancy — musical equiva- 
lents, as Koechlin rightly puts it, of the style and manner of 
Moliere's Monsieur de Pourceaugnac but not of his Misanthrope, 
Mussorgsky steers clear of all such facile and shallow devices. His 
style would have met the requirements of comedy of the highest 
order. Its scope is limited by that of the subject matter only. He 
uses no motley pigments, no magnifying glass, no distorting mirror. 
775^ Marriage is a perfect example of realism consisting in a 
minimum of stylization. 

The character of the text compelled him to avoid stylizing 
not only his materials, but his arrangement of them, the structure 
of the score. To achieve continuity and consistency under such 
conditions was an arduous problem. As he himself put it, he had 
to face "particularly erratic harmonic conditions"; and equally 
erratic conditions in the matter of rhythm, he might have added. 
Formal tonal schemes and rhythmic periodicity would have 
stiffened the dialogue and retarded the pace. His solution betokens 
not only a strong sense of discrimination, but full command of the 
means he selected. As regards tonal balance, for instance, it will 
be noticed that although the harmonies are ever shifting, although 
there is no tonal centre of any duration, and hardly any two 
successive cadences point in a similar direction, never is a feeling 
of ambiguity or neutrality conveyed. The ground may be in- 
definable most of the time, but it remains firm underfoot. 

Considering that he was setting prose, it is extraordinary that 
he should have availed himself so little of the resources provided 
by changes of time-signature, which he had already turned to 
account in several of his songs. But this does not prevent the 
dialogue being of exemplary suppleness and point. 

Harmony is the least salient feature. The texture is almost 
purely linear, chords intervening in order to bring out and 
reinforce the linear patterns rather than to provide explicit 
harmonic definition. Variety and intensity are obtained by means 
of contrasts of light and shade, pace, and dynamic accents. Colour 
proper plays hardly any part. The music, as written for the piano, 
may be said to consist entirely of black, white and grey ; and no 
special orchestral effect or scheme of scoring is suggested. Nor are 
the particular sonorous properties of the piano exploited in any 
way. Neither the very low nor the very high registers are called 



into play. In all respects, the music is a model of economy and 

Few recondite chords or concatenations are to be encountered. 
How secondary the harmonic scheme was in Mussorgsky's mind 
is shown by the fact that here, he, who elsewhere avoided stereo- 
types so carefully, resorts without a qualm to certain cut and dried 
formulas, such as sequences of diminished sevenths, using them 
either as transitions or for the sake of dramatic emphasis. 

Another device — but one as novel at the time as diminished 
sevenths were hackneyed — is the use of seconds or clusters of 
seconds in order to secure dramatic emphasis : 


J> T kj. I H^ 

Obviously, the function of these is to provide accentuation, not 

Since neither tonal relations nor rhythmic periodicity provided 
a suitable basis for the structure, Mussorgsky was bound to base 
his structural scheme on thematic continuity and inter-relations. 
This he did with remarkable lightness and surety of touch. The 
Marriage is the earliest example in Russian music of methodical 
use of leitmotives, but his way of handling them owes more to 
Liszt's principle of theme-transformation than to Wagner's 

In The Marriage all the themes are characterizing themes, most 
of them associated with one particular person, their shape and 
rhythm being suggested by that person's demeanour and move- 
ments; and they are capable, in turn, of suggesting characteristic 
attitudes and gestures (apart from being expressive exactly in the 
same way as these attitudes and gestures may be) . They are of the 
kind which may be called 'descriptive and pantomimic'. 

Comparing the style of The Marriage with that of The Stone 
Guest we realize forthwith how very much more sensitive and 
supple than Dargomyjsky's is Mussorgsky's recitative. Dargo- 
myjsky's is accurate in a dry, lifeless sort of way, as if the composer 
while at work had been thinking of speech generally rather than 
of individuals speaking, each according to his or her own nature 
(whereas in The Marriage the characters are strongly differentiated) . 
It seems to consist not of recitative that has become melody, or 



melody that has become recitative, but mainly of dry recitative 
interspersed with snippets from the stock-in-trade of song or 
aria. It often is over-punctuated — an error into which Mussorgsky 
never falls. And the instrumental accompaniment, most of the 
time, contributes little that is significant. 

This characterlessness is all the more astonishing considering 
that the characters in The Stone Guest, despite Pushkin's restrained 
procedure, have well-marked personalities, and indeed strong 
passions. Those in The Marriage, on the contrary, are puppet-like 
and shallow. 

The experience gained by Mussorgsky through his work on 
The Marriage was the complement, and converse, of that which 
he had gained when composing Salammbo. In Salammbo, he had 
attempted, with limited success, to deal with the externals and the 
conventional forms of opera. With The Marriage, on the contrary, 
his field was restricted to essentials, and no question of externals 
arose. His problem was how to adjust the realistic minimum-of- 
stylization principle to the requirements of a musical play. 

In September, he took up his abode in the home of his dear 
friends, Nadejda and Alexander Opotchinin, a flat in the 
Engineers' Palace (Alexander was the head of the Archives of the 
Engineering Department). A very happy period began for him. 
He started on Boris Godunof in October, devoting all his time to 
the task, and working at great speed. In November, the prospectus 
of the Russian Music Society concerts announced that excerpts 
from the opera would be given in the course of the season ; and by 
the end of the year the first three scenes were finished in vocal 
score. Other minor encouraging events were, in the course of the 
year, the publication, by Johansen, of the songs 'The Banquet', 
'Gathering Mushrooms', 'A Jewish Song', and 'The He-Goat', 
and his reinstatement in the service with the rank of assistant 
head-clerk in the Forestry Department. 

Nadejda Rimsky-Korsakof and Varvara Komarova, Dimitri 
Stassof 's daughter, recorded their impressions of Mussorgsky at 
that period and after. Here are Nadejda's recollections: 

I first met Mussorgsky at Dargomyjsky's home, at the time when 
Dargomyjsky was working at white heat on The Stone Guest, and we 
were preparing a private performance of scenes from it, my sister 
Alexandra learning the part of Laura and I being in charge of the 
piano. Dargomyjsky told us that the part of Don Carlos would be 
taken by Mussorgsky, the composer and singer, whose very name was 



unknown to us. On the day of the rehearsal we met him for the first 
time. His personaHty was so original that once one had seen him, one 
could never forget him. He was of medium size, well built; he had 
beautiful hands, fine wavy hair, and light grey eyes, fairly large and 
slightly bulging. His features were very ugly, especially the nose, which 
was always red — the consequence, he explained, of frostbite on parade. 
His eyes were not expressive, and might be described as tinny. Nor was 
his face mobile; it usually wore a cryptic expression. When talking, 
he never raised his voice, but would rather keep it low; and as he spoke 
or listened, it seemed to me that he was perceiving witty and humorous 
points, and enjoying them within himself, half smiling at them. 

He impressed us both greatly: and no wonder, considering how 
interesting, gifted, and enigmatic he was. We loved his singing. His 
baritone voice was not big, but pleasant and expressive. He sang simply, 
intelligently, with the subtlest shades of expression and with perfect 
naturalness. It was most fascinating to listen to him. Later I realized 
how wonderfully versatile an interpreter he was — equally excellent in 
dramatic, lyrical, and comical or humorous things; and as a pianist 
brilliant, powerful, elegant, masterly both in humour and in vehemence. 
He was inimitable in his readings of his own facetious songs, and deeply 
moving in the parts of Tsar Ivan the Terrible and Tsar Boris. He 
detested routine, not only in art but in everyday life down to the 
smallest details. He hated using simple words. He would show great 
ingenuity in altering and distorting family names. He chose his epithets 
aptly and subtly. The letters he wrote were most original and piquant. 
In the last years of his life, this originality of his became affectation, 
manifest not only in his letters but at times in his behaviour. 

I remember his showing Dargomyjsky the first song in The Nursery 
and Dargomyjsky exclaiming: "Well! This beats anything I have 
done". When he heard the first two scenes of Boris he said : "Mussorgsky 
will go farther than me". When The Marriage was performed at our 
house, he took the part of Kotchkaref. He was delighted, and so con- 
vulsed with laughter that at times he had to stop singing. Then he would 
say to me [she was at the piano] : "Go on! Go on! Fill in, and give me 
time to have my laugh!"* 

Komarova's recollections refer mainly to later years : 

I remember him as I saw him when I was seven [in 1869]. He was a 
frequent visitor to both our town and our country homes, and immensely 
popular with us children. We called him Mussorianin, as the grown-ups 
did; and we believed this to be his actual name. He never patronized 
us or used baby talk to us, and this we appreciated. We regarded him 
as one of us. My sister Zinotchka and I were impressed by his practice 
of greeting us with a "How do you do, my lady ?" and kissing our hand, 



just as if we were grown-up — which struck us as incredible and most 
amusing. But we chatted with him as with an equal; my brothers, too, 
were quite at ease with him and told him all about themselves and 
their doings. These conversations were the source of his songs 'Matros, 
the cat', 'The Hobby-Horse', and a third one (I cannot remember 
which) in the same set The Nursery. There was also another one, 
'Dream', inspired by a story Zinotchka told him. It was never published, 
but I remember his singing it to us. 

With me, the eldest, he often conversed on 'serious matters'. He it was 
who first told me about stars and constellations, teaching me to locate 
them; and also about the calendar. He often came to our country house 
and we were accustomed to his participating in all the events of our 
lives. I remember his being present one day when my two-year-old 
brother was given his bath in the sunlit porch and ran away all naked, 
crying, to be soothed by the promise of a strawberry. Mussorgsky, 
afterwards, delighted us by mimicking the whole scene and imitating 
my little brother yelling for the promised "belly, belly !"^ 



Work on Boris Godunof — The first version — Its rejection 

— The second version — It is rejected too — Life with Rimsky- 

Korsakof- — Mlada — Close friendship with Vladimir Stassof 

— First idea of Khovanshchina 

WE have very little information on Mussorgsky's life during 
the years 1869 and 1870. All through 1869, his time was fully 
occupied with Boris Godunof dind his clerical duties; and whereas 
while composing The Marriage he had lavishly described his 
activities and frame of mind to his friends, it seems that he never 
wrote a single word to any of them while engaged on the initial 
version oi Boris — at least, no trace exists of any letter of his written 
between August 1868 and May 1870, except for one brief note to 
Balakiref referring to matters in connection with a concert of the 
Free School of Music. So the repercussion that events around him 
may have had on him must remain a matter of conjecture. 

On 5/17 January 1869, Dargomyjsky died, leaving The Stone 
Guest unfinished. Mussorgsky must have felt the loss deeply. Less 
than six weeks before, the performance of scenes from The Stone 
Guest at Dargomyjsky's home, referred to in Nadejda Rimsky- 
Korsakof's recollections (see supra, p. 112) had taken place, 
Mussorgsky singing the parts of Don Carlos and Leporello; 
Mussorgsky, in the course of the autumn, had also shown Dargo- 
myjsky the first two scenes of Boris Godunof and according to 
Stassof's testimony, Dargomyjsky had lavishly praised these, 
proclaiming that Mussorgsky had gone farther than he. Such a 
verdict, from the lips of "the great teacher of musical truth", was 
the most splendid encouragement Mussorgsky could have wished 
for. As for his opinion of The Stone Guest, it was expressed in a 
letter of 23 July 1870 to Rimsky-Korsakof (in the meantime, the 
work had been finished, in accordance with Dargomyjsky's 
expressed desire, by Cui and Rimsky-Korsakof, the former 
supplying the missing music and the latter undertaking the 
scoring of the whole) : 



So we shall soon hear The Stone Guest in your beautiful scoring, and have 
it stonily performed by our artists, Petrof alone excepted. Even so, I 
expect it to create a tremendous sensation: the fall of Babylon, the 
tower of Babel and the confusion of languages. Maybe it is as well that 
the confusion should occur at a time when Dargomyjsky has taken his 
place among our ancestors: for, despite his lofty artistic ideals and his 
wonderful energy and persistence, he remained, all told, a man of the 
'forties. Seeing the public thrown into confusion by his Guest might 
have upset him, and even we, his friends, might have been unable to 
avert a new breakdown. He used to sour on the slightest provocation, 
and the ensuing fermentation was never of the kind that may serve a 
good purpose. But now he has been taken (in my opinion, all too soon), 
he stands where no dirt can reach him; in consequence, his music will 
fare all the better. Faith, boldness, and calm must be our motto. It 
should have been Dargomyjsky's too. He possessed, and he infused into 
art, something hitherto unsuspected, something that many people still 
consider impossible. So the thing to do is to fight one's way through. 

The performance of The Stone Guest did not take place until 
16/28 February 1872. Mussorgsky's hopes that it would create 
a great stir were not fulfilled. It was received coldly, and had but 
a short run. 

To revert to 1869: on 14/26 February Cui's Ratcliffe was 
performed, and fell flat. In his letter to Cui of 15 August 1868, 
Mussorgsky had expressed his enthusiastic belief in the new work : 
'^Ratcliffe is something more than a fine thing: itjs the very first 
adequate example of type-portrayal in music. A vous rhonneur, 
le charme a nousV^ It would be interesting to know whether the 
performance confirmed his first impressions. It seems doubtful 
that at a time when he was keyed up by his work on Boris and 
gaining daily increasing insight into the requirements and possi- 
bilities of dramatic music, he should have remained unaware of 
the feebleness of most of the music in Ratcliffe, It has been 
suggested by Russian critics that the hallucination scene in that 
opera may have been present in his mind while he was composing 
the hallucination scene in Boris] but the music does not provide 
any evidence to that effect. In fact, there was not the sHghtest 
musical affinity between Mussorgsky and Cui, nor any point of 
contact between their styles. Cui, nevertheless, had attempted 
"to embody in Ratcliffe the ideals of the groups" (Cui, Recollections^) 
and its production was "the first gun in their common fight for 
these; The Stone Guest, The Maid of Pskof, and Boris Godunofwcrc 


1869- 1872 

produced later" (ib.). So loyalty to his friend Cui and to the cause 
of the new school would in any case have induced Mussorgsky to 
stretch a point in favour of Ratcliffe. A letter of 1873 to Stassof 
shows that he was not blind to the limitations of Cui's imagination 
and technique. 

All through the winter and spring, the work on Boris Godunof 
proceeded apace. On 18/30 July, Stassof wrote to his brother 
Dimitri: "Mussorgsky has finally finished {sic) Boris Godunof, 
Towards the end of the last act, there is a narrative: Pimen 
describing how the Tsarevitch Dimitri appeared to him {sic), 
so beautiful that it stands on a par with Finn's ballad [in Glinka's 
Ruslan and Liudmild] and the finest things in his first two acts — 
that is, the scene of the people yelling and weeping under the 
cudgel, and the inn scene with the policemen." 

This shows that Mussorgsky was not so busy but that he found 
time to show his work to a few chosen friends. Vladimir Stassof 
obviously did not approve of the whole of Boris, (In the course of 
the summer, he wrote to Balakiref, with reference to some other 
matter: "Really, you have become as obstinate as Mussorgsky with 
his Boris on the subject of which he refuses to listen to reason".) 
In all likelihood, he had oflfered advice calculated to ensure a 
good reception for Boris, and recommended certain concessions to 
the reigning taste, of the kind that Mussorgsky was eventually 
compelled to make. But Mussorgsky had refused to listen, passing 
on to the scoring all unmoved. This was completed by 16/28 
December. The composer's troubles with his opera were soon to 

On I / 1 3 December 1 869 Mussorgsky was promoted to the rank 
of collegiate assessor, a mere promotion in tchin, not implying 
advancement in the service. In 1872 he was made a junior chief 
clerk. Concerning his office work at that time and after, Andrei 
Rimsky-Korsakof says :^^ 

In the archives of the Ministry of Agriculture, there are twenty 
files containing all kinds of reports and other documents in Mussorgsky's 
hand, all written in the precise and restrained style of officialdom. 
They show that he had to work hard, and that the complaints in his 
letters to his friends were fully justified. Only towards the end of his 
years of service did he begin to fail in his duties — at least, so far as may 
be assumed from the fact that the official notice of his transfer to the 
Control Department bears the mention, from the pen of one of his 
superiors in the department he was leaving: "Delighted!" 



In 1870, he was full of buoyancy despite the tediousness of his 
official duties. These, although miserably paid, had partially 
solved for him the problem of existence, further simplified by the 
fact that he was living with the Opotchinins. He had finished to 
his own satisfaction a tremendous piece of work, so profoundly 
original and pregnant that only nowadays is its full significance 
beginning to be realized; and this had won warm, if not altogether 
unqualified, approval from his friends. He was eager to tackle 
another of equal magnitude forthwith, but — as we know from a 
letter from Vladimir Stassof to his brother Dimitri* — unable to 
find a suitable libretto. A letter to Nikolsky of 19/31 May shows 
that he had borrowed several books of history, some of which 
referred to the Old Believers and the Raskol or schism. This 
suggests, as first pointed out by Andrei Rimsky-Korsakof in 
Mussorgsky: Letters and Documents (p. 156), that the notion of 
composing a national drama on this subject, which is that of 
Khovanshchina, may have begun to take shape in his mind at that 
very time. 

The letter contains the following lines, on which Andrei Rimsky- 
Korsakof 's remarks about "the precise and restrained style" of 
Mussorgsky's contributions to the office files provides an amusing 
comment: "The Forestry Department is going in for amending 
the Russian language, and turning out documents with fore- 
words — many forewords — and what not. But I remain invulner- 
able, and insist upon showing some regard for euphony." 

Then Stassof came forth with a plan for an opera to be entitled 
Bobyl (The Proletarian) after Spielhagen's* Hans und Crete, 

Mussorgsky toyed with the idea a while, but gave it up after 
outlining the music for an incantation scene in it — music which 
he afterwards used for the incantation scene in Khovanshchina, and 
elsewhere in the same score. Then, all of a sudden, his thoughts 
turned towards composing 'The Peep-show', a lampoon on the 
Conservatoire, its staff, and its supporters. His dislike for that 
institution had been growing more and more acute. A postscript 
to his only letter of 1869 to Balakiref says, with reference to compli- 
mentary tickets for the season's concerts that the Conservatoire 
had sent him: "I have received tickets from the musical lair, and 
decided to return them to the said musical lair." 

Probably the hostility of musical officialdom and of the Press 
to Balakiref (who in the spring of 1869, had been compelled to 

* Friedrich Spielhagen: a German novelist (1829-1911). 



resign his post as conductor of the Russian Music Society concerts) 
had something to do with his anger. Having decided to deride the 
foes of new Russian music, he went for them tooth and nail. 

'The Peep-show', a long scene for baritdne with piano accom- 
paniment, begins with the Showman (Mussorgsky himself) 
announcing the show. Then are evoked, successively: Zaremba the 
then Director of the Conservatoire, proclaiming his mystic creed to 
music from Handel's Samson] the critic Fif (Theophilus) Tolstoi, 
"ever youthful, versatile, and conciliatory, ever dreaming of 
Patti, pa-pa-pa, pat-ti!" to the strains of a drawing-room waltz; 
Famyntsin, already caricatured in 'The Classicist' to music based 
on one of his own compositions; Serof, fulminating and airing his 
grievances, as he was wont to do, to music parodied from his 
Rogneda, and finally, to music in which a Russian folk-song is 
used, the Muse Euterpe — that is, the Grand Duchess Elena 
Pavlovna, the president of the Russian Music Society, whom all 
implore to shine upon them and shed gold upon them, whereupon 
they will sing. 

The work, which in its time delighted the group, and has since 
won a good deal of praise as an example of Mussorgsky's gift for 
satire, is quite amusing really; but the musical effects in it are all 
of a very facile order. As a pamphlet music, as a weapon in the 
war between the two camps, it had a temporary value, no doubt. 
Nothing further can be said in its favour. In 1874, Mussorgsky 
(upon Stassof's suggestion), started composing another work of 
the same kind, named 'The Mound of Nettles'. Its subject was: 
the crayfish (Laroche, the critic) calls a meeting of all the beasts, 
to be held on this mound, in order to discuss the disastrous condi- 
tion of musical affairs. He arraigns the cockerel (Mussorgsky) 
for his ceaseless, senseless crowing. All the other beasts, such as the 
bear, the sloth, the sheep, the sea-cow, and the bug — every one of 
them representing one of the enemies of the new school — approve; 
they agree to follow the crayfish's lead, and to wring the cockerel's 
neck. When Stassof acquainted Rimsky-Korsakof with the scheme, 
Rimsky-Korsakof replied : 

I thoroughly disagree with the notion. I have come to the conclusion 
that things such as 'The Peep-show' are ephemeral and appeal but to a 
very small circle. They call for explanations and comments, and 
especially for acquaintanceship with the persons caricatured. If not 
warned, listeners might well take, for instance, the "Pa-pa-pa-pat-ti!" 
waltz for the genuine article, and heartily enjoy it. Moreover, such 



things must be done briskly and lightly. The capital, massive Teep- 
show' was not: nor would, I fear, 'The Mound of Nettles' be. 

Rimsky-Korsakof was thoroughly right: 'The Peep-show' lacks 
the lightness and crispness of 'The Classicist', and also its universal 
significance. It depicts not types, but individuals, and depicts 
them in a way that cannot seem relevant until circumstantial 
explanations are provided. Yet in 1872 Rimsky-Korsakof sug- 
gested to Mussorgsky that he should caricature, in a friendly spirit 
this time, the members of the *mighty handful'. Mussorgsky, in a 
letter to Stassof, declared himself delighted with the suggestion; 
but he never attempted to carry it out. The 'Mound of Nettles' 
idea appealed to him more strongly. He wrote to Stassof, at the 
time: "The idea of the cockerel being anathematized is amusing. 
It can be done, and perhaps be done quickly. But what an extra- 
ordinary person you are — what a bruiser!"* He outlined part of 
the music, and then dropped the scheme. 

On 10/22 February 1871 the news came that the committee of 
the Marinsky Theatre had rejected Boris Godunof. Shortly after- 
wards, Mussorgsky, yielding to advice, decided to remodel it in 
order to render it more acceptable. He composed nothing else 
that year, except, in March, a 'Little Evening Song'. His eagerness 
to get on with Boris is expressed in his letters to Stassof. Yet it took 
him about a year and a half — until June 1872 — to compose the 
new scenes and carry out the alterations he had decided upon: 
whereas the whole first version had been completed in thirteen or 
fourteen months. 

On 23 October/4 November 1871, a private reading of Rimsky- 
Korsakof 's Maid of Pskof took place at the house of the Purgolds, 
Mussorgsky taking the parts of Ivan the Terrible, Prince Tokmakof, 
and sundry minor characters, singing all these parts set for dissimilar 
voices, most beautifully, Rimsky-Korsakof records. Rimsky- 
Korsakof was to have difficulties with this opera, the Censor 
insisting that all expressions referring to the democratic regime 
of the old Pskof republic be altered, and also abiding by an edict 
of Tsar Nicholas I to the effect that tsars, provided they did not 
belong to the Romanof dynasty, might be represented in tragedy 
or drama, but no tsar, however ancient, in opera: "Can one 
imagine", the Censor explained, "a tsar being shown singing 

* Stassof, before filing the letter, blue-pencilled the word 'bruiser' — probably 
thinking of eventual publication. 


1869- 1872 

little songs on the stage?" With the help of the Minister of Marine 
(the composer's official chief) and also that of the Grand-Duke 
Constantine Nikolaevitch, the difficulties were overcome, and the 
opera successfully performed on 1/13 January 1873. The event 
showed the expediency of the notion of toning Boris Godunof down, 
by suppressing some of the portions of it to which the Censor was 
most likely to object. 

Nine of Mussorgsky's songs, most of them composed years 
before, were published in 187 1 ; and in the autumn he and Rimsky- 
Korsakof, wishing to be in closer artistic contact with one another, 
decided to share a room. In this room there were one writing- 
table and a piano. "We arranged", Rimsky-Korsakof says,^^ 
"that he should have the use of the piano until noon, while I sat 
working at the table. Then he would go to his office, leaving the 
piano free for me. As regards the evenings, we made arrangements 
according to circumstances." Stassof, in 1905, recorded his 
memories of the period as follows: "I shall never forget that time. 
I used to call on them early in the morning, rouse them, and help 
them to dress. Then we had breakfast, and immediately after- 
wards turned to our chief and favourite occupation, music. How 
jolly it all was, and how far back it is!" Borodin's opinion was 
that living in common had a beneficial effect on both composers : 
"Both have considerably improved since they started sharing a 
room. They are diametrically opposite as regards musical gifts 
and methods; and, so to speak, they complete one another. They 
react upon one another to the benefit of both. Modest has im- 
proved Korsinka's recitative and treatment of musical discourse 
generally, and Korsinka has done away with Modest's tendency 
to involved, wilful originality, to harsh harmonies, far-fetched, 
affected scoring, and illogical forms — in short made his composi- 
tions far more musical." 

Early in the year, two excerpts from Boris Godunof were given 
in public: the 'Coronation' on 5/17 February at a concert of the 
Russian Music Society, Napravnik conducting; and the Polonaise 
on 5/17 April at the Free School of Music, Balakiref conducting. 

"I suggested to him", Balakiref wrote years later to Stassof, "a 
few alterations. I see from the printed vocal score that he carried 
some of these out. I do not know if his scoring was amended, for 
I attended none of the stage performances [in 1874 and after]. 
I had nothing to do with the rest of Boris, nor with Khovanshchina 
and The Sorotchintsi Fair,^^ 



As already mentioned in chapter V, Balakiref disapproved 
of Boris, Yet Mussorgsky was grateful to him for performing the 
Polonaise: "You are rendering me a great service", he wrote on 
22 March/4 April. "It is indispensable that I should hear some 
composition of mine for orchestra without chorus : it will be the 
very first opportunity for me to do so" — which was quite true, 
except for the performance in i860 of the youthful Scherzo in 
B flat major, scored, it will be remembered, with Balakiref 's help. 

By June, the new version was ready in full score and Mussorgsky 
started planning to submit it to the arbiters of its fate. But, before 
he had finished it, a commission had been sprung upon him by no 
less a personage than Gedeonof, the director of the Imperial 
Theatres, and therefore the principal of these arbiters, which 
instead of delighting him, annoyed him. Gedeonof 's idea was to 
commission four composers, Cui, Borodin, Mussorgsky and 
Rimsky-Korsakof, to set to music the libretto of a fantastic opera- 
ballet of his own devising, one act being allotted to each of them. 
The second and third acts were given to Mussorgsky and Rimsky- 
Korsakof jointly, and they divided the work between them. 
Vladimir Stassof had been entrusted with the task of carrying out 
the negotiations. What happened to arouse Mussorgsky's anger is 
not known. But the letter that he wrote to Stassof on 31 March 
shows that he had taken his grievances very much to heart: 

That Mlada ! I feel hot with shame at the idea of putting pen to paper 
in order to set to music those "Sagana! Tchuk!" [meaningless words 
used to represent the language of the evil spirits, as in Berlioz's 
Damnation de Faust the "Has! Has! Irimiru Karabrao! etc."] and 
other balderdash, probably perpetrated at some time or other by 
some drunkard or other in a frenzy of delirium tremens. There's a 
fine source of inspiration for you ! And fancy treating the composers of 
Mlada like so many hirelings, showing so little appreciation of their 
work! All this spells a moral fiasco for our circle. I can see it coming. 
You know, my dear friend, that I will not put up with indignities nor 
connive at them. So, I am taking action. I have explained, as sweetly 
and tactfully as possible, to Korsinka and Borodin that in order to 
safeguard the virgin purity of our circle, and not let it be turned into 
a woman of the streets, I intend to give, not to accept, orders, as to how 
we shall do our work. With their agreement, I shall speak for all three 
of us. 

Rimsky-Korsakof, too, was not too well pleased with the 
position. But neither he nor Mussorgsky was wishful to stand in 



the way of a scheme in which Cui and Borodin were interested : 
so they allowed things to run their course. Soon afterwards, the 
scheme fell through, for the reason that the production would 
have proved inordinately costly owing to the required settings and 

That the libretto was not so hopelessly unsatisfactory as it 
appeared to Mussorgsky is shown by the fact that later Rimsky- 
Korsakof set it to music, making a splendid job of it. But as it 
provided a framework for picturesque, descriptive music rather 
than opportunities for human music, it was not of a kind that 
could be expected to appeal to Mussorgsky's imagination in 1872. 

The music he composed comprised a market scene and a march 
of the princes and priests for Act ii, and a remodelling of his 
Night on the Bare Mountain — a version for chorus and orchestra — 
for a glorification of Tchernobog in Act iii. This choral version, 
of which nothing remains, was again remodelled for inclusion in 
The Sorotchintsi Fair; so, for the same purpose, was the market 
scene. The march was turned in 1880 into a 'March to celebrate 
the taking of Kars', a new trio in Eastern style being added to it. 

In the course of the spring Mussorgsky had decided, following 
upon long conversations with Stassof, that the subject of his next 
opera would be Khovanshchina, the history of the conflict, towards 
the end of the seventeenth century, between the old Russia and 
the new — old feudal Russia being represented by the princes 
Khovansky, and old mystic Russia by the schismatic Old Believers, 
whose leader was the monk Dosifei. He set to work with great 
enthusiasm, studying his materials and outlining the libretto. 
But, mingled with the buoyancy which the new plan induced in 
him, there was a feeling of disenchantment, the reason for which 
he gave in a letter of 1 1 July to Liudmila Shestakova : 

Five years ago, you achieved your gracious plan of making your home 
a centre of reunion for our little group. You witnessed our doings, our 
enthusiasm and the battles we fought; it all found a live echo in your 
heart. Many fine things were achieved, and for this we owe you tribute. 
Glorious was the past of the group, gloomy is its present. Evil days 
have come. I shall not regard any of its members as responsible, but in 
this connection I cannot help remembering, in all good humour, 
Griboiedof 's "some of them were routed, and the others are dead, you 
see" [from the play. The Misfortune of being Intelligent]. A great pity! 
However hard I try to drive all thought of it away, the distressing 
memory haunts me, like a gadfly whose buzzing sounds like spiteful, 



derisive laughter. It is for you, dear friend, to collect the remnants 
of the scattered army : and if victory is impossible, let it at least be a fight 
to the last drop of blood, literally. Fighters will come forth and hold 
their standards firm against all comers. They will assemble: in rags, 
maybe, but their rags will be their own, not borrowed ones. The artist 
has faith in the future, because he lives in the future. So, faith has 
impelled me to lay my oflfering at your feet and confess to you. Take my 
Boris under your wing, and may the work be privileged to start its 
public career with your blessing ! 

Two days later he wrote a remarkable letter to Stassof, referring 

to his preliminary work on Khovanshchina, and then branching off 
to expatiate at length upon art and technique. 

Can you explain why, when I listen to young artists — painters or sculptors 
for instance — I am able to follow the workings of their minds, and to 
understand their ideals, and I seldom hear a word about technique 
unless it becomes imperative to broach the subject: whereas (but don't 
try to explain!) when I listen to our musical brothers, I seldom hear a 
live thought expressed — it is nearly always mere school-desk talk, 
about technique and musical terms. Is musical art so immature for 
the reason that it is practised by fledglings ? How often, just by chance, 
and in accordance with our silly custom, have I not started talking 
with a colleague, only to find out that owing either to mutual repulsion 
or to lack of clarity, we did not understand one another ! 

Well, maybe, I have no capacity for clear exposition — for presenting, 
so to speak, my brains on a salver, with the ideas printed on them as on 
a telegraph slip. But what about them? Why can't they make a start? 
Don't they wish to, then? Well, you, my dear Generalissimo, do under- 
stand me, and your bold, confident hand always hits the nail on the 
head. Granting that I shun technique, does this mean I am a poor 
technician ? A time will come when somebody will take up the cudgels 
in my defence on this point. What I can say is that I can't stand a 
host's telling me, while I am enjoying a good pie: *'a million poods of 
butter, five hundred eggs, a whole row of cabbages, and of fish a 
hundred and fifty and a quarter". You eat the pie and enjoy it: well 
and good. But should you go into the kitchen, you will see the invariably 
dirty cook, chickens on one shelf, pieces of fish on another, or maybe 
on the same, entrails peeping out of the colander (Prussians would 
appreciate the show!), and often a filthy rag with which the edges of the 
pie-dish will be wiped before serving. And then you will not find the 
pie so enjoyable. I tell you, so long as composers do not discard their 
swaddling-clothes, the symphony pontiffs will reign, imposing their 
Talmud upon us as the alpha and omega of art. Meanwhile, wise people 
feel that live art has nothing to do with that Talmud of theirs. I have 


1869- 1872 

no quarrel with the symphony; only with the symphonists, with the 
hopeless conservatoires. So you need not tell me why our musicians 
are more concerned with technique than with historical duties and 
goals. Another thing: I cannot help wondering why, whereas Anto- 
kolsky's, Repin's, and Perof 's works are generally accepted and under- 
stood, the newest achievements in music, despite their excellence, are 
not; and people, after having listened, come to you, saying: "Oh, yes: 
I thought that you . . . etc." Explain this to me, I pray: but without 
referring to the boundaries of art, my belief in which is only relative. 
Boundaries in the artist's creed spell stagnation. Besides, where are the 
boundaries ? It is true that up to a point, there are boundaries of a kind : 
sounds cannot do the work of paintbrush or chisel — all best things have 
their weakness, and conversely, as every child knows. I have taken up 
my cross and shall march, head raised, boldly and joyfully, against all 
opponents, towards the grand, the true, the luminous goal, towards the 
true art that loves humanity, living all its joys, pains, and labours. 
I do not ask for your helping hand: you have extended it long ago, 
and ever since I have clung to it. It is my best and beloved support. 

On 18/30 October, came another profession of faith: 

I am reading Darwin, and feel enraptured. It is not the greatness of 
his mind, nor its clarity, that transports me — I have been aware of these 
qualities from the time I first read his works : it is the fact that studying 
humanity from the point of view of its origins, he well knows the kind 
of animals he has to deal with. So he is able to grip one as in a vice ; 
and so gigantic is his genius, that instead of resenting the violation one 
feels enraptured. When a strong, ardent, well-loved woman holds her 
lover tight in her arms, even if she is being coerced, she does not wish to 
escape from the embrace, for sweetness has come out of violence. I am 
not ashamed of using this simile : whoever has known love in all its 
strength and boundlessness has lived, and remembers that he has lived 
splendidly. ... In poetry, there are two giants : the crude Homer and 
the subtle Shakespeare. In music, two : the meditator Beethoven, and 
the ultra-meditator Berlioz. Add to these four the generals and adjutants 
under them, and you have a goodly legion. But what do the adjutants 
achieve ? Nothing beyond bounding and dancing about along the road 
built by the giants, without ever advancing too far ahead — too 
frightening for them! And our own ones? Glinka, Dargomyjsky, 
Pushkin, Lermontof, Gogol and Gogol and again Gogol — they are 
one and all great generals, they have led their armies to the conquest 
of beautiful lands. Now, their successors are busy manuring these 
lands, which are too fertile to require manuring. 

Darwin has finally confirmed me in my innermost idea (about which 
at one time, I felt rather foolishly shy) that the artistic representation of 



beauty only, in the material sense, is crude puerility, an infantile 
stage of art. The subtlest traits of human nature, as manifest in indi- 
viduals and in the masses, the exploration and conquest of those little 
known regions — -that is the artist's real mission. "To new shores 1" 
Man is a social animal and cannot be otherwise. In masses, as in 
individuals, there always are subtle, elusive traits which no one has 
touched upon. To observe and study these by reading, watching, and 
conjecturing, with all possible intensity, and feed it to humanity as a 
health-giving pabulum, yet untried — therein lies the duty and the joy 
of joys. We shall endeavour to do so in our Khovanshchinay shall we not, 
my dear soothsayer ? 

This important letter should be considered jointly with one 
which he had written to Stassof on 22 June/4 July: 

At times one feels one has to blazon one's thoughts. That time has 
come for me: I am pregnant, and you shall see what I am about to 
bring into the world. How would it be if Mussorianin was to take 
Mother Russia by storm? Her rich black soil has often been tilled. I 
want to till not already cultivated land but virgin soil: not to scrape 
acquaintance with the people, but to identify myself with them — 
terrible, but fine! The full strength of Russia's black earth will not 
manifest itself until the soil is ploughed to the utmost depth. It can be 
worked with tools of foreign origin, as was done at the end of the 
seventeenth century [a reference to Peter the Great's policy] : but to 
do so is all wrong. Now times have changed, but still our sore-tried 
soil is allowed no respite. My duty is: the past living in the present. 
But, it will be alleged, we have progressed. Not in the least: we are at a 
standstill, and shall remain at a standstill so long as the people are 
unable to see with their own eyes how they are misrepresented, and 
so long as they have no say in the matter, no will to protest. Books are 
written, documents drawn, but the people suffer and groan; they seek 
relief in drink, and suffer and groan all the more. 

You are dear to me, not because I need you, but because you expect 
a lot of me ; and I expect a lot of myself, so wistfully, so passionately ! 
But I love you because of your capacity to shake up our Russian 
marmots, who sleep at the wrong moment and stir at the wrong 
moment. Nobody sees better than you do where my dream leads me, 
what I am delving for; nobody anticipates so clearly my further course 
(and a long course it will be: I have barely come out into the open). 
And so, no one but me realizes your power, and I realize it in my 
innermost heart. 

The tone of these letters is very different from that of the earlier 
ones. A strange note of mystic confidence has crept into Mussorg- 


1869- 1872 

sky's utterances. Not a trace of the doubts or "foolish shyness" of 
1867-8 remains. He feels sure not only of his goal, but of his 
ground. At the same time, his attitude has become more or less 
that of a visionary; and from that time on he will incline to talk 
more and more of what he hopes to do, living in the future and in 
a dream of realities to come. 

Particular value attaches to the expression of his active love for 
the people, and to the indications he gives of his political creed. 
He is seen burning with the desire to serve the people by means of 
his art, by arousing sympathy for them and interest in them, and 
above all by promoting a fuller comprehension of them and all 
that concerned them — the only possible way for him, considering 
both the conditions of the time and his own nature. 

He also reveals what he expected to achieve in Khovanshchina, 
the new work with which he already is "pregnant" in June. The 
full story of it will be told in chapters XHI and XIV; and it will 
appear from his later letters that he hoped to go much further than 
in Boris, to delve deeper into the soul and spirit of the people. 
Here, he was writing under the impression of his studies of the 
period he was preparing to deal with. The enthusiasm this pre- 
liminary work aroused in him shows in every line of another 
letter (15/27 July): 

To Vladimir Vassilievitch Stassof, as I dedicate Khovanshchina to 

I do not and need not care that no instance exists of a work being 
dedicated before it comes into being. No qualm turns me aside. I wish 
to look ahead, not backwards. I dedicate to you that whole period of 
my life during which I shall be composing Khovanshchina. There is 
nothing ridiculous in my saying: "I dedicate to you my own self and 
my life during that period" : for I have a live remembrance of living 
Boris and in Boris, and that time will ever be dear to me. Now begins 
to seethe a new work, which belongs to you, and I am beginning to 
live in it: what a wealth of new impressions, how many new lands 
await discovery — wonderful ! So I implore you to accept my unworthy 
self in this dedication of Khovanshchina which you have called into 

In the course of the autumn, he met Tchaikovsky, who was on 
a visit to Petersburg, several times. He wrote to Stassof this highly 
amusing account of the meetings : 

I have been in touch with the worshippers of pure musical beauty, 
and their conversations left me with a strange feeling of emptiness, 



coupled with another, still stranger and more irksome, which I cannot 
describe — the kind of feeling one experiences when one has lost a very 
dear friend whose companionship meant much to one. One remembers 
happy hours, one wishes to live them again, and one finds oneself in a 
dark, lonely forest, with unintelligible noises arising now and again — 
the inhumanity and lifelessness of it all becomes frightening. 

I had my first experience of the kind on Sunday, at Cui's. We did 
not have Opritchnik [Tchaikovsky's opera], because the composer had 
not brought the score. But we had : 
'Tisbe' (from Cui's Angelo) — fiasco. 

Mlada (Cui's share) — a success, except for the Morena music, a fiasco; 
the trio, furore. 

The Nursery — the type and purpose of the music were disapproved of, 
but it was said that the composer's reading imparted to it a mere- 
tricious attractiveness: otherwise, trash. 
'The Vagabonds' [from Boris] — fiasco. 
'The Parrot' [from Borisi — furore. 

Sadyk-Pasha [Mussorgsky's nickname for Tchaikovsky] was half 
asleep, dreaming of sorbets, or maybe of his Moscow kneading-trough 
especially when the Boris excerpts came. For then the dough began to 
rise. After 'The Parrot', bubbles started bursting with an ugly muffled 
noise; amid which I discerned the words: "Has power . . . but wastes 
it . . . useful to work at ... a symphony (in regular form, of course)". 
The powerful one thanked Sadyk-Pasha duly. I met him again at 
Bessel's. I was asked to play Boris^ and he asked for 'The Parrot' and 
effervesced furiously. But he set his face against the 'Polonaise'. 



Mussorgsky falls a prey to dipsomania — His friends' concern 
and efforts — He recovers — Boris accepted for performance 

THE year 1873 was an all-important one in Mussorgsky's career, 
for in the course of it performance and publication of Boris Godunof 
were secured at last, but it was markied by a disastrous happening : 
his succumbing to the craving for alcohol. 

Is there not in the excitable, unrestrained tone of some of the 
letters just quoted an indication that in the summer of 1872 he 
was beginning to lose his grip upon himself, and already indulging 
in drink ? It is difficult to say. All the evidence we have of his 
having gone downhill refers to the spring and summer of 1873; 
but Repin's Recollections, which will presently be quoted, seem 
to indicate that by that time intemperance had become habitual 
to him, and that Stassof had already made many an effort to curb 
him. Even so, there is nothing in his letters of 1873 to betray 
deterioration, even temporary. The actual facts came to light only 
a few years ago. 

The sad story begins with a letter of 6/18 June, from Dimitri 
Stassof to his wife, which says: " Mussorgsky himself told Volodia 
that he had been tormented by symptoms of insanity, and that the 
same thing had been occurring a few years ago. And also, he goes 
repeating that he is drinking heavily, although not fond of drinking. 
How terrible it is!" The next day he wrote to her: "Mussorgsky 
came to supper last night. I found him greatly changed — slack, 
thin, taciturn. But he keeps on composing as before — splendidly." 
Vladimir Stassof, at the time, was in Western Europe. 

During his stay in Paris, he would have been perfectly happy but for 
the distressing thought of what might be happening the while to his 
beloved Mussorianin. Many a time already, returning from a journey 
abroad, he had had to come to the rescue of the great artist, who 
during his absence had sunk to the utmost depth. It is incredible how 
so well-bred, well-educated a man, a quondam officer of the Guards, 
gentle, courteous, attractive, witty, irrepressibly cheerful, would, as 



soon as Stassof was not there, lose his hold upon himself, sell his 
furniture and good clothes, and go haunting cheap taverns, where he 
sank to the level of the 'has beens' around him, indistinguishable from 
them, his childlike, chubby person with the snub red nose quite 
unrecognizable. How many a time Stassof, after a long search, dis- 
covered him at last in some basement room, in rags, stupefied with 
drink. Even while abroad Stassof used to bombard all his friends with 
letters, asking for tidings: but none came to him, for nobody knew 
what had become of Mussorgsky.* 

The evidence is overwhelming. Very few particulars of his 
intemperance in 1873 and after had leaked out before the publica- 
tion (1909) of Rimsky-Korsakof 's Memoirs. And Rimsky-Korsakof 
has been accused in certain quarters — notably by Godet, whom 
eagerness to champion Mussorgsky led to disregard the rules of 
elementary fairness and courtesy — of incomprehension, and even 
misrepresentation. It has already been mentioned here that 
Rimsky-Korsakof 's attitude to his colleagues in his Memoirs was 
not entirely above reproach, but on this point it would be absurd 
to deny him full credence: since then, a mass of confirmatory 
evidence has cropped up, emanating from other excellent friends of 
Mussorgsky, whom nobody could suspect of exaggeration, cen- 
soriousness, or self-righteousness — Liudmila Shestakova among 

Nothing could show more clearly the deep aflfection these 
people bore to Mussorgsky, their goodwill and understanding, and 
their eagerness to help him than the moving letter which Pauline 
Stassof wrote to him immediately after hearing the distressing 

My dear, my very dear Mussorianin, what have I heard ! My husband 
writes that he found you grown thinner, very much changed, not at all 
Pargolovo-like — nor even Mussorianin-like. What does it all mean? 
I beseech you, not in the name of a woman who is dear to you (for there 
are interests loftier than those of the heart) , but in the name of that 
Russian art you love so well, and of art generally which you serve, do 
keep yourself in hand. What is the trouble? Is it your office work that 
worries you ? But think that you will get promotion, rewards, find favour 
with your chiefs or other powers that be. Don't waste yourself, don't 
grow too angry: even if you have to stick to your job for ten years, it 
will mean no loss to you, and to Russian music a great gain, since you 
will remain strong and healthy to serve her. Your difficulties harass 
* Repin: Recollections — unpublished but quoted elsewhere.* 



you: well, is there any distinguished person who always finds things 
easy ? You have financial troubles : but what are fi:'iends for ? Merely to 
hear, admire, or tear to pieces your music ? I need not expatiate on my 
feelings for you; you know them well enough. Maybe the trouble 
originates in some physiological cause. Do away, then, with the cause 
of the evil : what are doctors for ? let us speak frankly, bluntly, as is 
fitting. That naughty head of yours . . . well, is it not aflfected now and 
then by the means to which you resort because your gullet, too, is 
naughty? Why not consult, instead, Rauchfus or some other first-rate 
specialist, who will cure you ? Dear, beloved Mussorianin, think well : 
the man who started with Boris must rise ever so much higher. Are you 
really going to shorten your life as Glinka (but not by the same means) 
shortened his? Listen: when I return to Petersburg, in September, 
and I am rid of all my whimsies, I want to enjoy your company on 
Saturdays and Sundays at Pargolovo as before, and hear your music. 
And of course, I am not the only one who longs to hear new things of 
yours. Be a dear: no illness, no running to waste! 

Good-bye, dear friend. Do not resent this letter. Long ago George 
Sand said: "II n'y a pas de despotisme plus grand que celui de 
I'amitie". I have now demonstrated the truth of this saying, but my 
despotism may be justified by the feeling that inspired it. I shake both 
your hands warmly, warmly. The Tiapas and Mishenkas [the children 
and dolls, as in Mussorgsky's Nursery] all send their greetings to their 
beloved Mussorianin. 

Mussorgsky replied, on 23 July: 

My very sweet, beloved lady I shudder when I think how greatly my 
protracted silence must have perplexed you. Whatever reply I may 
deserve, I am not so graceless but that I can give you a heartfelt answer. 
Stingy husbandmen generally put their cat in a room where it will find 
no mice because the provisions stored there have gone too bad to attract 
them. So the cat must either escape or starve to death. 

When I read your sweet letter, I felt like such a cat, who had escaped, 
finding fresh air and good food. But on one point you are wrong: you 
need not fear for the musician in me. What a mistake for such a clever 
dear as you to make! Even should there be a slight doubt as to the 
work I am turning out being able to stand on its legs, there is none 
that I am often at work. If the results are not set down on paper, it is 
because the time has not yet come. The fault lies with this country of 
ours, which produces herbs of whose existence she is unaware, because 
she has no need for them. In Russia, art is a natural growth, but the 
fine arts are a mere luxury. I don't mean music only: I love (and 
understand, I think) all the arts. So far, my lucky star has guided me : 


that it will guide me further I steadfastly believe, because I love and 
live with so great a love, loving both humanity and art. 

And, after giving particulars of his plans for Khovanshchina and 
of the portions that were "practically ready": 

There, my very dear, sweet lady, is my answer to your more than 
friendly letter from Salzburg. My very warmest thanks. Now I am living 
in Khovanshchina as I lived in Boris, I am the same Mussorianin, only 
stricter for myself after that first success, which was crowned by you, 
and in consequence of my efforts to get close to the people ; and I want 
to create a drama of the people — there ! 

Your dear husband will perhaps be pleased with the early news of 
Khovanshchina. Liszt was so delighted with my Nursery that he wishes to 
inscribe a small piece to me. The subject and text were explained to 
him by Baroness Meyendorf, who is staying with him at Weimar. 

Bessel, the publisher, visiting Liszt in the spring, had shown 
him many Russian works, and Liszt had been particularly struck 
with Mussorgsky's. Mussorgsky, when he heard the news, was 
delighted, not only for his own sake — "and yet, what will Liszt 
think when he sees the vocal score o^ Boris GodunofV — but for that 
of the new Russian music generally, "which had found a champion 
in such an ace as Liszt" (letter to Stassof, 22 July) ; and Stassof, 
who meanwhile had received from Bessel the tidings, invited 
Mussorgsky to join him in Germany, after which they would jointly 
proceed to Weimar for Mussorgsky to meet Liszt. Mussorgsky 
refused, giving the following reasons : 

Alas, that I should have to turn away from sacred, most vital life, in 
order to sweat over rubbish ! But thus it is. Your flaming call impelled 
me to cast off my official uniform, but the trouble is that I cannot let 
my comrade and chief down : he is suffering from eye-trouble, and it 
would be wrong. He has been helpful to me, and now I must stand by 

A meeting with Liszt! How many fine things might have been the 
outcome ! But no, another way must be found of earning my daily bread, 
according to my strength and aptitudes. Besides I have faith in my star. 
It is impossible that an opportunity should not come, sooner or later, 
to see the men of Europe. If not, well, I shall resign myself. Your 
invitation, as splendid as you yourself are — that I should go with you 
to see Liszt, all expenses arranged for by you — is wrecked and there is 
nothing to be done. Nothing remains but one wonderful, life-giving 
impression — so live that I feel I am seeing Liszt, hearing his voice, 



talking to him and to you. This is no dream, no empty, wild talk. All 
the vitality that remains in me goes to evoking within me the image of 
the great artist Liszt and of his achievements. But for you, maybe, I 
should never have come so close to him, nor scrutinized him so intently. 
And it is the scrutinizing that is the main thing. There you are, dear 
friend. Call it all a platonic affair, but the main point is that my brain 
has been roused. This, you know, is always the main thing for a 
Russian: Russians are like the Petersburg cabbies, who never enjoy a 
nap better than when they are driving a passenger. I do not ask you to 
refrain from reminding me that I failed to go to Liszt. On the contrary, 
I ask you to remind me again and again: sometimes, a hateful feeling 
does one good, and disgust may help one to work one's salvation. I am 
now swimming the Khovanshchina waters, dawn is breaking, I am 
beginning to see my way and even to outline sketches — that's not bad. 

Long particulars of the work on Khovanshchina followed. 

Stassof, who saw in that visit to Liszt a chance of salvation for 
his friend, was naturally not satisfied wdth these lame excuses, and 
wrote another pressing, circumstantial letter, imploring 
Mussorgsky to come, even if it meant his having to resign from the 
service. But the only reply was: IMPOSSIBLE', Khovanshchina was 
begun, Khovanshchina was seething. And to convince his friend 
Mussorgsky gave another long description of what he was doing 
and planning to do. 

To determine the true reasons for Mussorgsky's refusal seems 
impossible. Had he fallen a prey to some form of partial abulia ? 
Was he unable to shake off the yoke of dipsomania, and feeling 
conscious that he could not be sure of being in a fit condition to 
meet his friends abroad, and especially Liszt? Was it excess of 
conscientiousness, and did his plans for Khovanshchina so absorb him 
that he really felt it impossible to interrupt his labour even for a 
while ? He certainly w^orked hard and to good purpose during the 
summer months; and a letter to Repin of 13 June shows that 
throughout the spring ideas had really been 'seething'; for, with 
Repin, he would have had no reason to allege pressure of work as 
an excuse: 

I simply long to get to business : but, alas ! Mother Russia provides me 
with nothing but office files and reports. A fine dish is on the fire, but 
who can tell what it \vill turn out to be ? I know in which direction I 
should strike, I am pressing on, and need no driver. Should obstacles 
occur, should the towing-rope break, what then ? Collapse will follow, 
of course. But the point is, the people are clamouring to be brought 



into being. I see them in my sleep, when I eat, when I drink : they are 
the great, pure, sterHng thing. How overwhelming is the wealth of 
their language, how many musical types it could help to create, so 
long at least as the country is not overrun with railroads! It is an 
inexhaustible mine in which to find the genuine, the whole life of the 
Russian people. But this for a genuine artist, will mean hard work, 
work such as you have put into your 'Towing-Men' [one of Repin's 
most famous paintings]. And our musicians rest content with devising 
differences of harmony and waste their energies fussing about technical 
details: lamentable! painters have known for centuries how to mix 
their colours, and they carry on unconstrainedly, according as they 
are gifted: but our brother musician ponders, calculates, and having 
calculated starts pondering afresh. Puerility, sheer puerility! 

All this, written at the very time when Mussorgsky's bouts of 
drinking were causing great anxiety to his friends, is very much in 
the same vein as the letters of 1872. But in the other letters of 1873 
faint indications are noticeable of a dual frame of mind : on the 
one hand, the urge to press forward and achieve great things, on 
the other hand a feeling of the uselessness of it all. Sentences such 
as "either escape or starve to death", "the people suffer, and are 
driven to drink, only to suffer all the more", and "the fault lies 
with the country, which produces herbs of whose existence she is 
unaware, having no need for them", may well be regarded as 
expressing his own discouragement. Was he despondent because of 
the difficulty of getting Boris produced ? He had no reason to be, 
for things were moving. As early as 5 February, three scenes from 
it had been given with great success at the Marinsky Theatre. 
In March Bessel had announced the opening of a subscription 
to the vocal score, to be published shortly; and Mussorgsky had 
delivered the manuscript to him on 14 May. He was, it will be 
remembered, inclined by nature to take a sanguine rather than a 
pessimistic view of things. 

Nor is it possible to suspect that any perturbing influence from 
without had been at work. He was living — apart from his uncon- 
genial official duties — under pleasant and, on the whole, stimu- 
lating conditions. His life with Rimsky-Korsakof having come to 
an end in the spring, shortly before the latter's marriage, he had 
started sharing rooms with Arseny Golenishchef-Kutuzof, a young 
relative of his and a poet, of whom he was fond and whose talent 
he greatly admired. Golenishchef-Kutzuof was a well-balanced, 
conservatively minded man, who tried his utmost to exercise a 



restraining influence upon Mussorgsky's musical radicalism, and 
also to restrain him in other directions — acting, his biographer, 
Zveref, records (in the preface to his collected works (St. 
Petersburg, 19 14) ), "like a vigilant nurse, and following his weak 
friend everywhere so far as possible". 

It has been surmised that the sudden death on 23 July, at the 
age of thirty-nine, of a very dear friend of Mussorgsky's, the painter 
and architect Victor Hartmann, may have contributed to 
demoralize him. But he had succumbed long before that date; 
and it is possible, on the contrary, that the blow helped him to pull 
himself together, if only through a sense of the duty he owed to 
the memory of his friend, and (as Pauline Stassova had reminded 
him) to Russian art, the art which Hartmann had served so 

So, maybe, the only explanation of his collapse lies in the fact 
that he was, in Repin's words, "a quondam officer in the Guards" ; 
the infection contracted at the School for Cadets and cultivated 
during his period of service was mainly responsible. 

He managed to react quickly enough, and during the last few 
months of that year, the atmosphere became appreciably brighter 
for himself and for his anxious friends. He worked at Khovansh- 
china with a will. On 1 1 November Bessel announced that the new 
opera was in hand, and that one excerpt from it, Marfa's song, 
would shortly appear. He received a further step in tchin^ whether 
as a matter of routine or not is not clear. And meanwhile, the 
news had come (on 22 October) that Boris Godunof was accepted 
at last by the Committee of the Imperial Theatres (see next 
chapter). All through November and December Mussorgsky was 
kept busy with preparations for the forthcoming event, and also 
with Khovanshchina. He also remodelled his choral Destruction of 
Sennacherib J inscribing the new version (which was never published) 
to Stassof : 

You remember that Balakiref thought the first version great fun, 
and that he arranged for its performance in 1867. I inscribed that first 
version to him : let the dedication be a memorial of the past. You, my 
dear friend, pointed out to me the imperfections of the middle section of 
the work. I was in close contact with you while remodelling it; and 
together we garnered applause from many motley audiences. But the 
main point is that this second version won your approval forthwith. 
So I inscribe it to you, joyfully and proudly. 

(to Stassof, 2 January 1872). 



The first performance of the work, scored by Rimsky-Korsakof, 
took place on i8 February 1874, at a charity concert. 

Mussorgsky also prepared an arrangement with piano 
accompaniment of choral numbers from Sarti's opera Oleg (1785), 
which were required to illustrate a lecture given by a university 
professor. January 1874 was a month of hectic work, culmi- 
nating on the 27 th in the first performance o^ Boris at the Marinsky 



The first Boris Godunof 

Mussorgsky works at great speed — The first version completed 

— The libretto — The music — His friends^ attitude to the 

work — Its rejection compels him to remodel it 

FROM the moment when Nikolsky suggested to him, as a subject 
for an opera, Pushkin's play The Comedy of the Distress of the 
Muscovite State, of Tsar Boris, and of Grishka Otrepief Mussorgsky 
allowed no other thought to divert his mind. He started work in 
October 1868, and carried on without a break until he reached 
the end. The speed at which he worked can be judged by the dates 
which the autograph manuscripts bear. According to the autograph 
libretto, the vocal score of the first scene was finished on 
4 November; that of the second, on 14 November; that of the 
third on 5 December. No date is given for the scene at the inn nor 
for the final scene, but scene 5 bears the date 21 April 1869, and 
scene 6, that of "night of 21-22 May". The autograph full score 
gives the dates: scene 2, 30 September 1869: scene 5, 19 October 
1869; scene 7, 15 December 1869 — which means rather less than 
fifteen months in all. 

As already mentioned, we have no information whatever as to 
the spirit in which he proceeded, nor as to the discussions he may 
have had with his friends during this first period of his labours 
on Boris Godunof the fruit of which was what is now known as the 
initial version of this opera.* 

We know that Stassof provided him with texts to draw from 
while building up the libretto, and may surmise that he offered 
suggestions as well. It was he who discovered, in an old printed 
collection,) the words of the song 'By the walls of Kazan' which 
the vagabond monk Varlaam sings in scene 4. (Pushkin had not 
included this text in his play, but merely written: " Varlaam 

* The word 'opera' is used advisedly. There is no evidence whatever in support 
of the'assertion/ to be found in von Riesemann's and von Wolfurt's biographies, that 
he ever intended to entitle Boris a 'national drama of the people'. On the contrary, 
all known autographs (including several loose sheets on which he drafted various 
wordings of the title — see Lamm edition. Preface, p. xiii — ) show him uniformly using 
the word 'opera'. 


starts singing the old song 'By the walls of Kazan' ".) Mussorgsky 
had been delighted with the find. 

Liudmila Shestakova had presented Mussorgsky with an inter- 
leaved and bound copy of Pushkin's play for him to use in prepar- 
ing the libretto ; and on the blank sheets he wrote the text of the 
first five scenes. This book is now in the MS department of the 
Leningrad public library. On the first page is written, in Mussorg- 
sky's hand; "Here, dearest Liudmila Ivanovna, you have, all 
complete, the work of which you were the witness — 27 January 
1874" (the date of the first performance of Boris). And in 
Shestakova's hand: "1874, 31 March: I transfer all my rights on 
this volume to Bach, that is, Vladimir Vassilievitch Stassof, 
Liudmila Shestakova". On the second page, Mussorgsky wrote: 
^^ Boris Godunof, opera in four parts by M. Mussorgsky. Subject 
borrowed from Pushkin's dramatic chronicle of the same name, 
many of his verses being preserved in the libretto. The composition 
and scoring of the opera were finished in July 1872 at Petrograd. 
M. Mussorgsky. N.B. Conceived during the autumn of 1868, the 
work was begun in October 1868. It was for the purpose that this 
volume was prepared by Liudmila Shestakova." 

The question of the relationship, from the literary and dramatic 
point of view, between the play and Mussorgsky's libretto, either 
in its initial form of 1 868-9 or its final form, is outside the scope of 
this book.* So is the question of the relationship between the story 
of Tsar Boris as told by Pushkin and Mussorgsky on the basis of 
Karamzin's History of the Russian Empire and the actual historical 
facts (which show that Boris did not instigate the murder of the 
Tsarevitch Dimitri) . What is of interest, however, is to note both 
Mussorgsky's indebtedness to Pushkin, in whose play he found a 
firm basis on which to build, and also many fine scenes and 
speeches, in verse or in prose, fit to be used exactly as they stood, 
or almost, and the extraordinary dramatic sense and literary 
ability which he displayed in his adaptation. Pushkin devotees 
have criticized him severely; but, all told, he cannot be said to 
have overstepped the bounds of the permissible in the matter of 
adaptation for the purposes of the musical stage-play. Pushkin, in 
his treatment of his subject, is extraordinarily restrained: so much 
so that unless one has seen the play, it is impossible to tell how 
much of it is effective on the stage, although it makes very fine 

* The subject was discussed in Music & Letters, xxvi (i945)> p. 31. — Ed. 



This terseness and simplicity served Mussorgsky well. A less 
satisfactory point was its structure : it consists of twenty-four scenes 
(some of them very brief) loosely strung together, which illustrate 
separate moments and aspects of the tragedy, and whose signifi- 
cance to spectators depends in a large measure upon their knowing 
the story of Tsar Boris. The same criticism has been levelled, far 
less justifiably, at Mussorgsky's Hbretto. 

This consists, like the play, of a series of cross-sections, so to 
speak; of scenes every one of which shows us a crucial point in the 
progress of the tragedy — a twofold tragedy : on the one hand that 
of Tsar Boris, on the other hand that of the Russian people, 
suffering and threatened with a grim, unknown future. The 
scenes are seven in number : four taken from Pushkin and more or 
less modified, but without their structure being affected, two 
devised by Mussorgsky on the basis of indications in the play, and 
one — the Council and the Tsar's death — evolved from two separate 
scenes (the sixteenth and the twenty-first) in it. Unavoidably, 
certain points of secondary interest were sacrificed in the process, 
but many, of vital interest, were added. The plot is far more closely 
knit than in the play, and its progress far more direct and speedy. 
Even without the additional bond of union that the music provides, 
the libretto is compact, beautifully co-ordinated and balanced; 
it forms a whole in which there is nothing superfluous, nothing 
that is not vitally important. The order of the scenes is : 

I. Boris Godunof, who in order to become Tsar has caused the 
heir to the throne, Dimitri, the young son of Ivan the Terrible, to 
be murdered, is pretending to decline the crown. He has with- 
drawn into a monastery. Meanwhile (this is the point at which the 
opera begins) his agents have mustered the people outside the 
monastery and are compelling them — who do not know in the 
least what it is all about — to implore him to accept it. In turn the 
Chancellor of the Duma (State Council) and a procession of 
pilgrims urge them to pray the Lord that Boris may relent. The 
people remain bewildered and indifferent, although they have 
.been shouting lustily under the threat of the police officers' 
cudgels. They are ordered to assemble the next morning by the 
Kremlin, to receive fresh instructions. The scene corresponds to 
scenes 2 and 4 in the play, but with essential differences. The 
people are shown in an entirely different light: in the play, they 
implore Boris spontaneously, and there are neither police officers 
nor pilgrims. 



2. The coronation of Boris. The people hail their new Tsar, who 
is haunted by evil forebodings and secret terrors. But, pulling 
himself together, he invites them all to a great banquet. There is 
no coronation scene in Pushkin : only a brief speech of the Tsar 
to the patriarch and the noblemen after his coronation. Portions 
of this speech were used by Mussorgsky. 

3. At a later period. In his cell at night, a venerable monk 
Pimen, is engaged in writing the final chapter of a chronicle of 
Russia. With him is a novice, Grigory Otrepief, whose mind is 
perturbed by obscene visions and ambitions. Hearing from Pimen 
the story of Boris's crime, Grigory secretly resolves to avenge the 
murdered Tsarevitch. This deeply impressive scene is an abridge- 
ment of scene 5 in the play, without any other alteration. 

4. Grigory has escaped from the monastery. Along with two 
vagabond monks, Varlaam and Missail, he is trying to reach the 
Lithuanian border. The three arrive at an inn near the border; 
and, while his companions converse, he ascertains from the hostess 
the way into Lithuania. Soldiers appear. Their orders are to find 
and arrest the fugitive. He is identified, but manages to escape. 
This is scene 8 in the play, slightly abridged, and with additional 
touches of comedy in Varlaam's part. 

5. Five years after the coronation, in the Tsar's private apart- 
ments, Xenia, his daughter, is bewailing the death of her betrothed, 
and the nurse vainly tries to cheer her up. Feodor, his son, is 
studying a map of Russia. Boris enters, speaks words of comfort to 
Xenia and praises Feodor for his industry. Then, in a poignant 
monologue, he expresses his cares, his anger with those who 
misinterpret his every action and accuse him of countless crimes. 
A boyar appears, and tells him that his Councillor-in- Chief, 
Shuisky, craves audience, also informing him that Shuiskyand other 
noblemen are secretly communicating with Lithuania. Shuisky 
enters with the news that a pretender to the throne of Russia has 
arisen in that country. "Is he dangerous?" Boris asks. Shuisky 
replies that the pretender describes himself as Dimitri, the son of 
Tsar Ivan, miraculously saved from death — this after a long 
exordium cunningly calculated to stir Boris out of his indifference. 
Boris, infuriated, orders that strict measures be taken to guard the 
frontier. Then, suspicion and terror gradually entering his soul, 
he starts questioning Shuisky. Is it quite certain that Dimitri was 
dead? Shuisky, under colour of reassuring him, gives so graphic a 
description of the body of the murdered child lying in the church 



at Uglitch that Boris breaks down. In a hallucination he sees 
Dimitri's ghost threatening him. This is, in all essentials except 
for the breakdown and hallucination, scene lo in the play, but the 
Tsar's monologue was taken from another scene, the seventh. 

6. Outside the St. Basil Cathedral in Moscow. The people have 
heard Grigory (who now passes as Dimitri the Tsarevitch) 
anathematized. They are convinced that Dimitri is alive, and that 
his armies now marching against Boris will be victorious. The 
younger men start shouting: "Down with Boris!" The elders 
warn them to be cautious. A simpleton appears; urchins tease him 
and rob him of a groat which he had proudly displayed. Boris, 
with his retinue, comes out of the cathedral. The people all implore 
him to give them bread. The simpleton calls out: "Boris! The 
wicked boys have stolen my groat. Command that they be 
murdered as by your order was murdered the young Tsarevitch." 
Shuisky orders the guards to seize him, but Boris intervenes: 
"Don't touch him! Man of God, pray for me." But the simpleton 
replies: "No, Boris! One must not pray for a Tsar Herod: the 
Holy Virgin would not allow it." And in the silence that follows, he 
proceeds to mend his bast shoes, singing a mournful song: 'Weep, 
weep bitter tears, poor Russian people'. This is scene i8 in the 
play, expanded by additional dialogue, the imploration of the 
people, and the final plaint. 

7. In the Council Hall in the Tsar's palace. The Chancellor 
reads out an edict of the Tsar against the Pretender. While the 
Councillors discuss it, Shuisky enters, is accused by them of 
double dealing, but diverts their attention by announcing that the 
Tsar is ailing, and tormented by weird phantasms. Then, all of a 
sudden, the Tsar breaks in, distraught, pursued by the vision of the 
murdered child. He regains his composure a while; but after 
hearing from the lips of the monk, Pimen, a description of a miracle 
that has taken place by Dimitri's tomb, he breaks down again and 
dies after a final exhortation to his son. This is partly a compound 
of scenes 16 and 21 in the play. But all that occurs until Pimen's 
entry is Mussorgsky's. The narrative, in the play, comes not from 
Pimen, but from the patriarch in council (scene 16) who tells it in 
order to show that the Pretender is an impostor. It does not cause 
the Tsar's final collapse, which takes place (scene 2 1 ) behind the 
stage — Boris, who had been discussing matters quite calmly 
with one of his Councillors, having left the room a while to receive 
foreign visitors in council, is brought back a minute or two later 



in a dying condition. This, it is said, is how Boris's death actually 
occurred, without immediate, obvious cause. Mussorgsky pre- 
ferred to make Pimen appear as an instrument of Providence — 
possibly a conscious one, and certainly one who plays into 
Shuisky's hands. This was an idea of genius. 

In short, every one of Mussorgsky's alterations is defensible from 
the dramatic point of view — and also, splendidly carried out from 
the literary. Many of them create opportunities for significant 
music in addition to those afforded by Pushkin's text. He did not 
aim at emulating the matter-of-factness and uniformity of treat- 
ment of Dargomyjsky's Stone Guest. 

In fact, the music of Boris, with its alternation and blend of 
realistic, lyrical, and symphonic treatment — this consisting 
mainly in the use of leitmotives, thematic derivations, and theme- 
transformations — is something that was unparalleled at the time 
and has proved inimitable. So is, all told, the libretto, a model of 
starkness and terseness. 

It does not, like the later version, afford hearers any opportunity 
for relief. It pursues its grim course without an instant of inter- 
mission, except when the tension is relieved a while by touches of 
character-comedy in the dialogue (first and sixth scenes, the 
people; scene at the inn; Feodor and the nurse at the beginning 
of the fifth scene). And even at these points, there is nothing 
(except Varlaam's song, 'By the walls of Kazan, the mighty 
stronghold') that comes as an intermezzo inducing a halt, however 
brief, in the action. Every one of these touches is part and parcel 
of the whole. 

A very remarkable feature (one, indeed, that makes this version 
something unique in the history of lyric drama) is that Grigory 
never reappears after he has effected his escape into Lithuania 
and begun his activities as the Pretender. He remains in the 
background, evoked time after time by references made by 
Shuisky, by Boris, by the people, and by the Councillors. And these 
allusions are made doubly pregnant by corresponding reap- 
pearances and transformations of the leitmotive first introduced 
in association with the murdered Tsarevitch. Hence a particular 
significance attaches to the fact that this is used in connection 
with both the Tsarevitch and his impersonator — the two unseen 
terrors haunting Boris and gradually breaking down his resistance, 
and the two main factors in what is the real tragedy of Mussorgsky's 
masterpiece : the fate of Russia. 



No better preface to the study of libretto and music could be 
found than the following paragraphs from an essay by Eric Blom, 
entitled 'Constructive and Destructive Influences in Music'.* 

Mussorgsky's operas completely overthrow Wagner's system and 
show what extraordinarily dramatic and deeply human music can be 
written if Wagnerian verbosity be replaced by a strict limitation to the 
barest essentials and by setting down music as it flows from the heart 
instead of building it up laboriously from so many bricks that have been 
carefully trimmed beforehand. We cannot help feeling, on listening to 
Boris Godumf, that this, after all, is the way to write an opera. In the 
libretto of Boris, for example, the dramatically important coronation 
scene is sketched in a few words, nothing more than a mere framework 
that could not stand upright without the music. Boris, therefore, is 
essentially an opera and nothing but an opera, whereas Wagner's 
dramas, with their logical development, their explanatory dialogues 
and soliloquies, their diffuseness that takes care to reveal by means of 
the text all that the characters do and feel, would be by no means 
elliptical without music. 

These remarks refer to the libretto of the final version (the 
only one known in 1923), but apply with equal, if not greater, 
force to that of the initial version. 

It may be added that the musical texture and structure of 
Boris, although certainly not suggestive of laborious building-up 
or of laboriously explanatory intentions, are by no means as 
artless and obvious as they might suggest to the uninformed. 
Indeed, there is a danger that by stressing the many significant 
analogies, correspondences, and other points of purely technical 
interest that the study of the score reveals — by discoursing, to 
quote Mussorgsky himself, on the butter, eggs, and so on, that 
went to the making of the pie — one may convey the reverse 
impression. One good reason for taking the risk is that in order to 
defeat on their own chosen ground Mussorgsky's censors, who are 
ever proclaiming that his methods were crude and clumsy, it is 
necessary to talk technique. 

His use of leitmotives in The Marriage has already been referred 
to (in chapter VII). In Boris, he resorts not only to leitmotives, 
but also to a valuable process never used before in dramatic 
music, and hardly ever in instrumental music (the main theme of 
the Allegro in Berlioz's Francs-Juges Overture, however, is vaguely 

* Musical Quarterly, ]v\y 1923. 


outlined in the introduction) : the foreshadowing of themes that 
take their full form later. The principle, it will be remembered, 
was formulated in a letter referring to The Marriage (see supra 

PP- 98-9) • 

Throughout the score of Boris we notice seeds that germinate 

each in due time, brief passages embodying allusions to, or 
containing germs of, music that will unfold itself later, and playing 
a part in the extraordinary unity of the texture. We may not 
perceive these as leitmotives whose reappearances and trans- 
formations need be watched: they do their work all the more 
thoroughly and subtly for that reason. Quite possibly, he was not 
conscious of every connection that arose as he wrote the music of 
Boris. It is quite admissible that the main elements, at times, 
just grew out of one another, their mutual relation being as 
logical, as inevitable, as that of a branch to the root of the tree. 

This may or may not be the explanation of analogies such as 
this : during the Chancellor's speech to the people (scene i : 
"Boris, despite our entreaties, refuses the crown . . ." )we hear 


:^^[>^^ ^ > J Ji 



rj~rj , i 

'^ W ^ 

which foreshadows both the character and the actual design of 
motives that will be extensively used in connection with Tsar Boris, 
(see infra^ Ex. 27 and 28). 

The various foreshadowings of the Dimitri theme are of specially 
deep significance. The first occurs in the opening bars of the 
prologue, a brief instrumental prelude based on a folk-tune-like 
melody : 

• •*• 

which also plays the main part in the final section of the first 
scene (the people discussing matters after the pilgrims have left), 



and provides a variety of materials used in the course of this 
scene and after. For instance, in the opening chorus : 


• •fit m T , » \ ^ T ^ •T' 












We want to ap-point a Tsar of Rus - sia. 

Even the main theme of this chorus : 


has affinities with it. 

The Dimitri theme consists of two closely similar designs: 


the first of which is used as leitmotive more often than the second. 
The first is present, note for note, in the initial melody (notes 
marked by asterisks in Ex. i6), and also the second, as can easily 
be found out. 

This, surely, despite the fact that the final notes of the design 
are a traditional folk-song cadence, often used by Mussorgsky 



(notably in his earliest song, 'Little Star') and by other Russians 
too, cannot be a mere accident. It is impossible to tell whether 
Mussorgsky calculated it, or whether it happened inevitably, 
owing to the unconscious working of his creative imagination. 

It would be stranger still if the relation of this motive to the theme 
expressing Tsar Boris's anxiety, which is heard the very moment 
he appears in the coronation scene (see infra^ Ex. 26) should also 
be a mere coincidence. 

The last foreshadowing occurs in Pimen's narrative of the 
murder, thus: 







All steeped in blood and life-less lay Di-mi-tri 

shortly before the motive is heard in its definite form (the firjt 
part of Ex. 21). Let it be noticed, too, that the main element in the 
music of the narrative is : 



') - J t 



to which Ex. 21 is obviously related. 

Needless to point out that if, as surmised here, Mussorgsky 
more or less consciously gave the Dimitri theme so remarkably 
significant a pedigree, he was justified in so doing, considering 
the all-important and complex functions that he destined the 
theme to fulfil. 

As a leitmotive, it refers, in the scene in the cell, to the murdered 
Tsarevitch, reappearing when Pimen says to Grigory: "He'd be 
your age or almost, and reign to-day." ("At this point", Mussorgsky 
stipulates, "Grigory rises, majestic, head high, and, with feigned 
humility sits down again"), and at the end, when Grigory 
expresses his horror of Boris's crime. But in the scene at the inn, 
it becomes associated with Grigory escaping into Lithuania, to 
rise against Boris as Dimitri the Pretender. It appears in the 
second section of the brief prelude — the first consisting of elements 
associated with the vagabond monks — and several times during 
the scene, usually in jauntier form (vocal score, pp. 88, 99, 106). 



And from this point on, as already mentioned, it is associated with 
the Tsarevitch Dimitri (Shuisky's description of the body in scene 
5; Pimen's narrative of the miracle in scene 7, etc.) with Grigory 
in his assumed character (scene 6: the people talking of the 
triumphant progress of his armies), and with Boris's fear of both 
the haunting phantom (scene 5, passim : 



— a vividly graphic transformation), and of the Pretender (his 
dying speech to his son). 

No other theme or leitmotive in Boris is used to so great an 
extent. The only other themes to be used for allusive purposes now 
and then are those connected with Tsar Boris, three in number. 
One, suggesting his majesty and power: 







appears in the first part of his monologue, and often afterwards. 
It is used allusively twice only, in the final scene: when the 
Chancellor is about to read the edict, and after the Tsar's death, 
by way of instrumental peroration — the only one of its kind in the 
whole score. 

Another referring to the heavy burden of his cares and fears : 


^^'\f o 




^ ^ 








l>^ lenhl bi" r^ 


is heard when he appears in the coronation scene, in the instru- 
mental bars preceding his monologue in scene 5, the bars of 
massive chords in the course of it (see, notably, pp. 37, 39-40, and 
43 of the full score, the tuba part), and in the scene with the simple- 
ton. It is used allusively in the scene at the inn, when the police 
officer refers to the Tsar's order that the fugitive be caught; and 
in the last scene when Shuisky prepares to inform the Councillors 
of the Tsar's ravings. 

The third, connected with his anger, and also with his remorse: 


appears in the course of the monologue, in the scene with Shuisky, 
and the Tsar's hallucination, in his dying speech to his son, and, 
for an allusive purpose, while Shuisky is describing his ravings to 
the Councillors — at which point the relation between it and the 
'majesty' theme is made clear by this fusion of the two (v.s. 
p. 341-42): 













-o zt 


This relation, Hke many others mentioned here, carries no 
symboHc implication, but is of interest to students of texture. 

The threefold characterization achieved by means of these 
very expressive motives is of rare psychological value and technical 
interest. The fact that all three, besides being specifically connected 
with Tsar Boris, are used for allusions to him seems to have been 
insufficiently considered by Andrei Rimsky-Korsakof, who says: 
"No leitmotive is used in connexion with Boris", and by Riesemann 
and others, who repeated the assertion and improved on it. Two 
other aspects of the Tsar's personaHty are expressed musically: 
his love for his daughter by a beautifully pure and tender melody : 




P^l' r J rr- r i r r iT^J I j r ^- J'l j j 


his love for his son by a delightful little motive : 




which lends itself to a variety of telling harmonizations. A good 
reason for not regarding these elements as Xenia and Feodor 
themes, as several analysts have done, is that they do not arise in 
the early part of scene 5, the one point at which Xenia is on the 
stage and the only one at which Feodor is there without his father 
being present. 

There are not many individual leitmotives of importance in 
Boris. Yet, the other two characters embodying the forces arrayed 
against the Tsar — Pimen, the force of immanent justice, and 
Shuisky, the force of intrigue and hatred — each has his own 
motive : Shuisky's a sinuous design graphically suggestive of his 
cunning and his honeyed manners: 


Pimen's, a grave, calm phrase, which naturally has affinities with 
old church music. 

The melody of the Pimen theme is modal, and so built as hardly 
to suggest any particular tonality. So Mussorgsky is able to 
harmonize it in many different ways, thereby and by other slight 
changes, never affecting its design or rhythm, adapting it to the 
expression of Pimen's various feelings. (Questions of melodic and 
harmonic structure, modality, tonality, and so forth will be dealt 
with in chapters XVI-XVIII.) 

A few secondary characters have personal motives too : 

Varlaam, a forcible, little rhythmic pattern, 





r y 

which Mussorgsky uses skilfully and aptly as both a structural and 
a pantomimic element throughout the inn scene ; the police officers 
also a rhythmic pattern, pantomimic in character, which is, in 
the vocal score : 

Ex.83 ^^ ^^ ^ ^ 


and in the full score : * 

It is used not only in the first scene, but also in the inn scene 
and in an altered form at the beginning of the scene by St. Basil's 
(when policemen patrol the crowd, but without interfering). 
There are suggestions of it in the cornation scene (vocal score, 
pp. 41 if.). 

Leitmotives, theme transformations, and correspondences, 
Mussorgsky's main resources for structural purposes, are but one 
order of the resources he uses for characterization, the main thing 
being the marvellously supple, sensitive style of each vocal part. 
Points worthy of special notice in this respect are the shape of the 
melodic line, the variety of colour resulting from modulations and 
changes of pitch; the character of the declamation (not in reci- 
tative only), its pace, punctuation, pauses; and the wide diversity 
of patterns, rhythms, inflexions, and accents brought into play. 
Everywhere Mussorgsky achieves that maximum of specificness 
and differentiation which the minimum-of-stylization principle 

* This is not the outcome of a misprint : for in either score the motive, at every one 
of its appearances, remains what it was at the first. It is reasonable to suppose that 
the full score always represents Mussorgsky's final decision. When, in 1896, Rimsky- 
Korsakof revised Boris, he rightly selected the form given in the full score. Later, at 
a time when the full score was still unavailable for study, several critics of Rimsky- 
Korsakof's version— Robert Godet and the present writer among others — included 
this in the list they gave of unjustifiable alterations. 



aims at ensuring: one might say, without referring to the actors' 
contribution, that every one of the characters has not only a mode 
of speech, but a tone of voice typically his own. 

All this, as emphasized by Andrei Rimsky-Korsakof (and of 
such matters Russians alone are fully competent to judge) is done 
with perfect ease and naturalness: "Never at random, but with 
admirable logic and deep artistic feeling. As an example of 
swiftly, freely flowing musical discourse, fraught with objective 
psychological meaning and poetic significance, Boris stands 
unique in the whole repertory of the art. The music is so spon- 
taneous in character that often it conveys the impression of an 
improvisation. Its efficacy and orderliness accrue from the fact 
that Mussorgsky's genius was of an unusual type: it operated, 
like the forces of nature, under the guidance of powerful, un- 
conscious creative impulses. "^^ 

Despite the fact that the periods are short, the music also con- 
veys the impression of an uninterrupted, almost invariably melodic 
line. On this point, another remark in the same essay is worth 
considering: "This impression is partly the result of an illusion: 
the vocal part and the accompaniment jointly often form a 
continuous melodic flow; but on the other hand, the one or the 
other occasionally consists of disjoined, dissimilar bits " — e.g.: 



m -B. 





You know me; 

Im mer - ci - ful, 

your ma- ny 








■M^ i'^fUU]fiW}UiJi] 

Imfif jfjt ifm^ :^ 




^A i g 'r . f r ^^ 

m f -if 


-y— r- 

\ f [^ \ f 


I heed not, I for - give them, 

so far you're safe. 


















The example provides a good illustration of melodic recitative 
in the vocal parts and organized melody in the instrumental — 
an arrangement common enough in Boris and other of 
Mussorgsky's works, and so useful that it counts in the composer's 
favour, especially as it never means his straining the music or 
resorting to trickery. Here let it be noted that what appears in the 
orchestra is the 'majesty' theme, aptly used even though, at the 
moment, Boris is concerned with making his point and not with 
asserting his sovereignty. 

Elsewhere, on the contrary, we find two distinct, continuous 
melodic strains: 




m m 

could I but see you on the throne of Rus-sia, 



P- — P- 




1 - 


and pru - dent in your state - craft! 

This leads us to consider, more generally, the relations between 
the instrumental and the vocal part. 

The accompaniment, at its simplest (except, of course, when 
its function happens for a while to be reduced to sustaining the 
voice), provides confirmation, additional colour and emphasis, 
reinforces accents. Often it consists of thematic elements rele- 
vantly used, and is in itself highly dramatic and suggestive. It 
may also provide a background (notably: vocal score, pp. 60-1, 
Grigory's dream; p. 63, Pimen's visions of *' boisterous feasts and 
lusty warfare"; pp. 120-1, Feodor marvelling at the course of the 
Volga — but here the piano part conveys no adequate idea of the 



evocative power of the music: see full score, pp. 7-1 1; and 
especially the evocation of desert, snow-clad regions while 
Grigory is questioning the hostess about the way into Lithuania) . 

Independent comments are few. When they occur, they consist 
chiefly of themes used allusively, as already explained. 

The term correspondences used a while ago covers not only the 
thematic affinities and derivations of which a few have been 
mentioned, not only resemblances that may be accidental, yet are 
present and suggestive,* but broad parallelisms in the situations 
and in the music. 

In the St. Basil scene, as in the opening scene, the people are 
assembled — no longer passive and indifferent, but restive; and 
as in the coronation scene, Boris appears, but only to hear his 
subjects clamour for help in their distress. The music does not 
markedly underline the analogies, yet there are resemblances 
perceptible enough to create links that have a value in the struc- 
tural scheme of the score. Similar but more striking analogies are 
noticeable in the revolution scene in the final version (composed 
in 1872). 

In the scene in the cell, Pimen's narrative of the murder stirs 
Grigory to action ; in the final scene, his narrative of the miracle 
brings about the Tsar's collapse. The music of both narratives is 
based on two all but identical forms of one theme : for the first : 










* For instance, the main motive used in the early part of the debate in council, 
the subject of which is Grigory 's rising: 





is note for note the pattern that appeared in the inn scene at the moment of Grigory' s 
escape : 


t^iUUMM^^ ^ 


for the second : 






* it 






Truly an outstanding example of adaptation of one musical 
element to contrasting ends (the expression of tragic emotion, 
and of serene, mystic faith), a few slight differences of design, 
colour, and dynamics producing a thorough change of character; 
and also, a splendid architectural feature. 

Other parallelisms show Mussorgsky's consistency in using this 
structural process whenever possible. None of them runs counter 
to the minimum-of-styhzation principle. Nowadays, for instance, 
the music of the second narrative does not produce an impression 
of lesser naturalness, spontaneity, and fitness than it did in the 
days when (the first narrative being unknown) no question arose 
of tracing its materials back to an outside source. And not even 
those critics who are wise after the event could contend that either 
form of the theme seems manufactured or laboured in the least. 

The above remarks show that while "setting down music as it 
flowed from his heart", Mussorgsky did not fail to build it up 
skilfully and ingeniously. The structure and balance (the tonal 
balance, and also a number of other technical points, will be 
considered in chapter XVIII) are such as could only be achieved 
by an artist who had seen his work whole. 

One important consequence of Mussorgsky's policy of economy 
is that the pace never slows down a single instant. Once the 
dialogue has started, breaks are few and brief. So are preambles 
and perorations. The opening scene, for instance, has a brief 
prelude (on the nineteenth bar of which the curtain rises) showing 
the people assembling. Another six bars, and the police officer 
enters. He is given a few seconds to scowl at the people, and the 
dialogue starts. Seven bars for the people to recover their breath 
after their first bout of yelling, five for the Chancellor's entry, 
and thirteen between the end of the pilgrims' chorus and the 
resumption of the dialogue are the only breaks of any perceptible 
length; and there is a nine-bar instrumental conclusion during 
which the stage gradually empties. 



In Act ii we have a six-bar prelude, a six-bar break in the 
Tsar's talk to Xenia, a seven-bar preamble to his monologue, 
five bars for Shuisky's exit, and three bars as the Tsar sinks, 
exhausted, to his knees. The music ends abruptly, with the last 
word of his imploration. Even in the scene in the cell and the final 
scene, which, naturally, are built on broader lines, the economy 
is no less. 

Needless to expatiate on the practical advantages of this terse- 
ness and brisk pace. The actors are never compelled to resort to 
unnecessary motions or to attitudinizing to fill in time while 
music has its say. But, of course, plenty of time is given for the 
requisite amount of acting. 

Such is, summarily described, the masterpiece which Mussorgsky 
finished in December 1869, and which in this first form, the 
outcome of his spontaneous inspiration and calculations, was not 
revealed to the world until 1928, well-nigh half a century after 
his death. The long and short of its history at the time is that it 
satisfied, as already mentioned, neither the committee of the 
Imperial Theatres nor his own friends, even though most of the 
latter realized its originality and power. 

He started showing it to them soon after its completion. The 
earliest record available so far of his so doing is, in a letter of 
II May 1870, from Borodin to his wife, the following brief 
sentence: "Last Thursday Modenka was at the Makovskys' 
house and played his Boris, which created a great impression. 
All were delighted with it." 

Letters which Borodin wrote after having heard the second 
version (see p. 168) seem to show that he himself on this first 
occasion had not been altogether satisfied. 

On 13 July Mussorgsky wrote to the sisters Purgold: "I went 
to see the director. He said that they can produce no new work 
this year; but they may, towards the middle of August or so, 
invite me to make their flesh creep with Boris '^ 

On 23 July he wrote to Rimsky-Korsakof: "Yesterday at 
Pargolovo [Stassof 's country house] I played my extravagance to a 
big audience. The mujiks in Boris impressed some people as 
comical, but others realized the tragedy of the scene. The inn 
scene bewildered a great portion of the audience. By the way : I 
went to see Ghedeonof too. He was strict, but fair, and I also was 
strict but fair. The result is that I shall be invited after 15 August, 
but they can produce no new work this year." 



The interview took place with disastrous results. Boris was 
examined by a committee consisting of Napravnik, the opera 
conductor, Manjean and Betz, the conductors of French and 
German operas respectively, and Giovanni Ferrero, the double- 
bass player. They rejected it, being thoroughly disconcerted by the 
novelty and unusual character of the music. They blamed the 
composer for, among other things, the lack of any reasonably 
important female character in his opera. Many of their quibbles 
were simply grotesque. For instance, the double basses divisi 
playing chromatic thirds in the accompaniment to Varlaam's 
second song so shocked Ferrero that he never forgave the com- 
poser. Offended and hurt, Mussorgsky withdrew his opera: but, 
thinking matters over, he decided to overhaul it drastically and 
make additions to it. The committee's decision did not surprise 
his friends, most of whom had also been disconcerted. Indeed, 
Stassof writes : 

All his closest friends, including myself, although moved to en- 
thusiasm by the superb dramatic power and genuinely national 
character of the work, had constantly been pointing out to him that it 
lacked many essentials; and that despite the beauties with which it 
teemed, it might be found unsatisfactory in certain respects. For a long 
time he stood up (as every genuine artist is wont to do) for his creation, 
the fruit of his inspiration and meditations. He yielded only after Boris 
had been rejected, the management finding that it contained too 
many choruses and ensembles {sic), whereas individual characters had 
too little to do. This rejection proved very beneficial to Boris, 



The second Boris Godunof — What Mussorgsky may have 
felt about it — He waxes enthusiastic — The new Boris cuts ; 
added scenes; character of the work altered — Comparison of 
the two versions — His friends enthusiastic — Balakiref's 
censures — Boris again rejected — Excerpts performed in 
February 1 873 — Success and criticisms — Boris accepted at last 

WHAT Mussorgsky's feelings were when he found himself 
compelled to recast Boris we probably shall never know. But when 
he started work, he did so with a will; and by June 1872 he had 
finished the remodelling and eking out. The alterations consisted 
mainly of additions that would bring Boris closer to the usual type 
of opera, and of excisions which, besides shortening scenes that 
it was surmised, might leave audiences cold, would lessen the risk 
of objections on the part of the censorship. He suppressed the final 
section of scene i, making it end with the dying-out of the pilgrims' 
chorus; the narrative of the murder in the scene in the cell; and 
the whole of the St. Basil scene. He gave the innkeeper a merry, 
rather ribald song to sing before the coming of the monks and 
Grigory. He incorporated two delightful songs in the first section 
of Act ii (Xenia, Feodor, and the nurse) and, for less manifest 
reasons, changed the music of Xenia's lament. The grimness of 
what followed, from the point at which the Tsar's monologue 
begins, he relieved by inserting a charming and picturesque 
episode: the Tsar's monologue is interrupted by shrieks behind 
the scenes. He sends Feodor to find out what has happened. A 
moment later — after the boyar has warned the Tsar of Shuisky's 
plotting — Feodor comes back with the tale of a parrot who has 
bitten a nurse because she refused to pet it. 

He also lengthened the Tsar's monologue considerably, turning 
it into an arioso that branches out into a forecast of the final 
hallucination, and drastically altering its character. He modified, 
hardly less drastically, the dialogue with Shuisky. He introduced 
new and telling effects in the music of the final hallucination : the 

J 57 



working of a clock with chimes and puppets, which Feodor at 
the beginning of the act had been watching with dehght, starts 
again, providing a background that heightens the Tsar's terror; 
and the music expands into a wonderfully evocative symphony of 
pulsing basses, whirring violins and flickering woodwind. 
(Remodelling finished ii October 1871.) Act iii is entirely new, 
and in all respects thoroughly operatic. Grigory, now Dimitri the 
Pretender, comes to his right as an opera tenor, and there is a 
prima donna. The act is partly based on Pushkin's scenes 12 and 14, 
but Mussorgsky introduces a third character, who is one of the 
main movers in the plot against Boris. 

This is in accordance with history. Indeed, when planning with 
Stassof 's help the additions, he never lost sight of historical reality. 
The clock on the stage and the parrot episode were suggested by 
Karamzin's mention of a clock of this kind and of parrots among 
Tsar Boris's possessions — the latter, apparently, the first to have 
been imported into Russia. 

The act takes place in Poland, in the castle of the Sandomir 
Voyevod, Mnishek, where the Pretender has his headquarters. 
He is plotting the Tsar's downfall, and has fallen in love with 
Mnishek's daughter, Marina. 

Scene i. Marina is sitting at her dressing-table. Her maids of 
honour entertain her with songs in praise of her beauty, she 
dreaming the while of the time when she will sit on the throne of 
Russia. Rangoni enters and urges her to gain influence over the 
Pretender and to serve the interests of the Roman Church. 

Scene 2. In the castle gardens at night, Dimitri awaits Marina 
by the fountain. Rangoni comes to him and promises to help him 
win his beloved. The only reward he craves is to be accepted as the 
Pretender's adviser and guide. After an interlude — the guests 
dispersing through the gardens (orchestral and choral polonaise) 
and gleefully anticipating victory over Boris — Marina joins 
Dimitri at last. At the moment he (as in Pushkin, but Mussorgsky 
has unaccountably left out capital points in Pushkin's treatment 
of the scene) is more concerned with the joys of love than with the 
conquest of Moscow, and he talks of giving up his ambitions in 
order to live happily with Marina. She persuades him that this 
would be folly, and the act ends with a love-duet — Rangoni, in the 
shadow, watching the couple and rejoicing at the success of his 

The composition of the first scene was finished on 10 April 1871 ; 


1872 - 1873 

that of the second, on 14 December; the full score bears the dates: 
scene i, 10 February 1872; scene 2, 29 March. According to 
one account, Mussorgsky had outlined the scene by the fountain 
in 1868-9, carrying the sketches quite far before deciding to give 
up the idea. 

Act iv, scene i is the last scene in the initial version slightly 
curtailed but otherwise unaltered. 

Scene 2. In a forest near Kromy, on the road to Moscow, 
peasants in revolt are torturing and deriding one of Boris's boyars 
whom they have captured. The Simpleton appears, as in the St. 
Basil scene, and his groat is taken from him by the urchins. 
Varlaam and Missail, who have taken up the Pretender's cause, 
burst forth and fan the flame of revolt. In turn two Jesuits, 
Rangoni's agents, arrive singing a Latin prayer: 'Domine, salvum 
fac regem Demetrium Moscoviae'. Indignantly the two rogue 
monks urge the crowd to hang the intruders, who are saved by 
the entry of the Pretender and his troops on their way to Moscow. 
He addresses the crowd, and as he marches away all follow him. 
Alarm bells toll from afar, the glow of a great conflagration reddens 
the sky, distant clamours are heard*, and alone on the stage, the 
Simpleton sings his final complaint, exactly as in the St. Basil 
scene — a conclusion of overwhelming impressiveness in its sim- 
plicity and quietness. 

The date of composition is unknown. The scoring was finished 
on 23 June 1872. 

Particulars given by Vladimir Stassof are interesting :^ 

We decided jointly that the story in Karamzin of a rising of the people 
and of the part played by the Jesuits Tchernikovsky and Lavitsky would 
be taken as the theme of the splendid revolution scene. | The text of the 
chorus 'Ever rising, ever spreading' is that of a brigands' song com- 
municated by D. L. Mordovtsef. The tune of Varlaam and Missail's 
song 'Darkness has swallowed sun and moon' is from the repertory of 
Ivan Trofimovitch Riabinin of Olonetz whom Mussorgsky heard in 
1868 at Petersburg. In the winter of 18 70, J Nikolsky suggested that the 
revolution scene should be placed not before that of the Tsar's death, 
but after. That he and not I should have given Mussorgsky this 

* This is only a stage-direction; by a curious omission no provision is made in the 
score for its carrying out. 

t According to other sources, it was Nikolsky who first suggested the idea of 
introducing the scene. 

J Anobvious mistake for 1 87 1 . 


brilliant, this grand idea filled me, I must confess, with distress and 

Mussorgsky's letters to Stassof contain a few indications as to 
the gradual rise of his enthusiasm for the work in hand : 

I am finishing the scene. Two nights running the Jesuit has kept me 
awake. It is nice when one composes thus [i8 April 1871]. 

The guilty Tsar perpetrates a certain arioso. In the opinion of 
musicians, and especially Lodyjensky and Rimsky-Korsakof, this 
guilty arioso is most enjoyable and strikes the ear in most businesslike 
fashion. And the literature of the aforesaid arioso I myself have 

Inasmuch as it is trying and displeasing to see and hear the criminal 
gritting his teeth, after this a little crowd of nurses rush in, shrieking 
and lamenting for no known reason,* wherefore the Tsar drives them 
away and sends his son to find out what the trouble is. [A full description 
of the episode follows.] With the music, the story of the parrot comes out 
so tolerably, that the aforesaid musicians kept their ears wide open, 
so as to absorb and enjoy this tolerable stuff to the full [10 August]. 
I have the honour to inform your Grace that we have accomplished a 
shortening of Pimen and rectified Grishka (which means, of course, 
composed Grishka afresh).! And the Gorsican admiral says that the 
thing is now momentous and that we 'hold the trumps'. I am planning a 
brigands' scene, novelty and novelty — novelty out of novelty! It's 
great fun [23 September]. 

The main differences in text and music between the two versions 
will be discussed in due course. These differences, and also the 
conflicting evidence we have as to the circumstances of the case 
from the moment Boris was remodelled to the day of the first 
performance, give rise to baffling problems as to Mussorgsky's 
psychology and, accessorily, that of his friends and advisers. 

Let us provisionally accept the view that, in the remodelling, 
Boris Godunof was improved in many respects, but that certain 
essential portions of the initial version were either suppressed or 
deplorably weakened. If we take the purely practical point of 
view that he had no option but to suppress or weaken these 
particular portions if he wished to secure the production of his 
first completed opera, there is nothing further to be said. But this 
is not good enough; the important thing would be to determine 

* Later, Mussorgsky decided that the shrieks should come from behind the scenes. 

t A comparison between the two texts (both in Lamm edition) will show that a 
recast was needful and that Mussorgsky carried it out well. 


1872 - 1873 

what in his heart of hearts he felt about it all. We may also 
imagine him taking a childlike delight in proving to his friends 
that he was perfectly capable of following their advice, as at the 
time when he was so proud of having been "entrusted with the 
task of setting to music prose straight out of life" (see supra, p. 102). 

Admitting that he was interested in the new opportunities which 
the remodelling provided, we may imagine him eagerly setting 
out to display the psychology in accordance with a new con- 
ception of it (not a very happy one from the dramatic point of 
view, as will presently be shown) even though this meant making 
away with many fine things in the initial version of Act ii. But it is 
reasonable to suppose that with regard to giving up the St. Basil 
scene, his feelings must have been veiy mixed. The scene, from the 
dramatic point of view, is of capital importance, its one drawback 
being that it is particularly difficult to produce adequately on the 
stage. Maybe, too, the musical treatment of the dialogue of the 
people in it is not as felicitous as might be expected on the strength 
of the high standard set by the dialogue in the opening scene, 
but whether he was conscious of its thinness is doubtful. Anyhow, 
his interest centred in the revolution scene, and he must have felt 
that this was worth any sacrifice. 

One can but wonder what his feelings were when it came to the 
suppression, pure and simple, of the most significant and splendidly 
carried out portions. Can he really have approved the notion of 
shortening Pimen's part by cutting out the narrative of the murder, 
the very apex of the scene, and one of the corner-stones, both 
dramatically and musically, of the whole work ? Or that of doing 
away with the end of the opening scene, thereby spoiling the 
beautiful musical architecture of the scene and sacrificing valuable 
elements of characterization ? Elements that are, in fact, indispen- 
sible to show the spirit of the cheering in the coronation scene; 
for instance, the conclusion of the discussion: "If we must shout, 
no matter where we shout — all the same to us !" Did not one of his 
friends realize how deplorable such cuts were ? Stassof refers as 
follows to one minor order of alteration introduced, apparently, 
during the rehearsals in 1873: 

In the choral scenes Mussorgsky often introduced passages for solo 
voices; for instance, in the opening scene, the sentences "Mitiukh, why 
do we shout?", "A tsar must be found to govern Russia", among 
others, and also a number in the revolution scene. But it pleased my 



lord the conductor [Napravnik] to have them sung by groups of 
choristers. Under the influence of the man upon whom so much 
depended, Mussorgsky, who in practical matters was at times far too 
plid,nt and submissive, agreed to this deplorable suggestion — exactly as 
Glinka, thirty years earlier, had agreed to the alteration of the best 
things in his Ruslan and Liudmila and — again like Glinka — he allowed 
the altered forms to appear in the printed edition of his opera. O how 
incomprehensible the Russian lack of character ! 

The same is certainly true of many of the major alterations : but 
apparently this never occurred either to Stassof or to anybody else 
until half a century later. 

Golenishchef-Kutuzof's recollections of Mussorgsky strike a 
contrasting note. He wrote them down in 1888, but they appeared 
in 1935 only.^^ It is necessary, when considering them, to re- 
member that he had an axe to grind. He himself confesses as much 
quite frankly. He was a sworn enemy of radicalism in art as well 
as in politics. He objected to Stassof 's description of Mussorgsky 
as a revolutionist and realist in art, and accuses him of having 
persuaded the composer to follow a policy alien to his true nature. 
He loathed the peasant scenes in Boris^ all the peasant songs in 
Mussorgsky's output, and even humorous songs such as 'The 
He-Goat' or 'The Seminarist'. Accordingly, he set out to show that 
his friend was really an idealist, who now and then had gone 
astray under the infliuence of pernicious advice. He held, like 
most people, that realism was the cult of the lowly and unpleasant. 
He honestly believed that Mussorgsky was more of a realist when 
dealing with the rogue Varlaam than when dealing with Tsar 
Boris : of all Boris it was the Polish act that appealed to him most. 
He declared that Mussorgsky's musical ideas, in their first flower, 
were always beautiful, but that he deliberately spoilt them when 
committing them to paper, because of his 'radical' attitude. 

He has an amazing story to tell about the cuts practised in 
Boris when it was first produced: that Mussorgsky — ^the true, 
sensible Mussorgsky whom Stassof was ever trying to extirpate — 
found no praise high enough for the wisdom displayed by Naprav- 
nik in chopping off one portion oi Boris after another, was delighted 
that the whole scene in the cell should have been cut out and 
thoroughly approved of the excision of the parrot episode, the 
chiming clock and so on: "All this, Mussorgsky used to tell me, is 
quite impossible on the stage. 'But those gentlemen [Stassof and 
his group] simply won't listen to reason. They want quantity, 


1872 - 1873 

not quality. They say I am infirm of purpose. They simply can't 
understand that the composer of an opera cannot finally judge 
of the effectiveness of scenes until he actually sees them on the 
stage. Did not Meyerbeer practise remorseless cuts at rehearsals? 
And he was a man who knew what he was about!' " 

We may wonder whether Golenishchef-Kutuzof, in his eagerness 
to place Mussorgsky on a pedestal of the right kind, has not over- 
reached himself. But, however strange his statements may be, we 
have no right to wave them aside, we must test and assess them with 
the remainder of the evidence. 

When, as on this particular point, confirmatory evidence is 
lacking on either side, all we can do is to resort to conjecture. 
There is no reason to doubt Golenishchef-Kutuzof 's veracity, nor 
even, in the main, the faithfulness of his memory. He says that he 
himself did not agree with Mussorgsky in this particular matter, 
whatever his feelings as to the dramatic or musical value of the 
suppressed passages may have been. The discussions he un- 
doubtedly had with him must have helped to fix things in his 

Indeed the recollections show that the two — who genuinely 
believed in one another — used to indulge in lively bouts of con- 
troversy. As Keldysh points out in his commentary, Mussorgsky, 
under the influence of some mood of the moment, may at times 
have let fall statements that did not express carefully considered 
judgments. We may suppose that temporary excitement caused 
by Napravnik's arguments (whom one cannot help suspecting 
of having adduced the example of Meyerbeer) might account for 
his readiness to approve of the omission of the scene in the cell, 
never marking that this meant the Pretender's appearing out of the 
blue in the inn scene, unaccounted for, intelligible only to those 
who had the story at their finger-tips. 

It is easy enough to admit that when the revolution scene was 
cut out in turn, he should have remarked : "This is all to the good, 
not only from the point of view of dramatic fitness, but from that 
of my own conscience. In that scene, for the first and only time in 
my life, I misrepresented the Russian people. They might wish to 
punish, and even kill an enemy, but they would never torture 
and deride him." This is exactly the kind of thing we can imagine 
him saying, and believing at the moment (it was in 1876, at a time 
when he was more than ever idealizing the Russian people). 

But none of these conjectures enables us to imagine him enter- 



taining, upon mature reflexion, a desire to justify without the 
sHghtest restriction the appalHng mutilation of his masterpiece. 
Admitting, nevertheless, that Golenishchef-Kutuzof's description 
of his frame of mind in 1873 and after is true in the main, an 
explanation may be found in his nature. Indeed, the study of his 
life, sayings, and works reveals that there were three separate 
and unrelated aspects to his personality: the inspired artist, who 
when at work forgot all about theories, including his own; the 
excitable, unbalanced talker and theorist, who at times had no 
clearer comprehension of his own creative self than of the work of 
other creators ; and the restless seeker who, as soon as a work was 
finished — or even before, if the prospect of another one opened — 
lost interest in it. By 1872, when he began Kkovanshchina, Boris, 
so far as he was concerned, was done with, and all his energies 
and hopes centred in the new task. 

Nothing could be more characteristic in this respect than in the 
letter he wrote to Stassof on 2 January 1873, after hearing that 
Boris Godunof was to be produced at last, the following lines: 
"It is jolly to think that when we stand our trial with Boris, we 
shall be thinking of Khovanshchina, living Khovanshchina ! We shall 
be told: 'You have infringed all laws divine and human', and 
reply: 'So we have!', mentally adding, 'And we shall infringe them 
again'. We shall be told 'You will be forgotten soon, and forever', 
and reply: 'No, no, and no!' " 

This explanation, of course, does not touch the core of the matter: 
but the evidence available so far provides no decisive indication as 
to what his innermost feelings were. 

Even nowadays, to weigh the two versions against one another 
is a heart-breaking problem. After we have admitted that the 
opening scene and the scene in the cell are preferable in their full 
form, and that the revolution scene is so overwhelming as to 
weigh the scales heavily in favour of the final version, countless 
points remain to be taken into account. 

To begin with, the matter has to be considered from two almost 
unrelated points of view: the practical, matter-of-fact point of 
view of business interests, and the purely artistic point of view. 
From the former, it may be acknowledged that the initial version is 
too consistently gloomy, and that there is far greater variety in the 
final version, owing to the remodelling of the second act and the 
insertion of the Polish act. There is far more singing; and the 
polonaise enables producers who believe in the value of spectacle 


1872 - 1873 

for its own sake to introduce a little dancing, as Diaghilef did in 

Passing to the artistic point of view, it would be absurd to deny 
that most of this, in principle, is to the good. But as soon as we 
look deeper, complications arise. In the initial version, the tragedy 
lies wholly within the soul of Boris and in the fate of the people. 
Grigory, after he has become the Pretender, ceases to matter 
except as a symbol of the forces arrayed against Boris — the 
instrument set into motion by Pimen. In the final version, he cuts 
an insignificant and conventional figure throughout the third act, 
and it is only when he appears at the end of the revolution scene 
that he assumes importance. Boris, in the initial version, is strong 
and manly despite his grim forebodings. He thinks of his people 
and his responsibilities as a ruler rather than of his own fate. 
In the final version, he is seen sick, suspicious, and nerve-wracked 
from the moment when he appears in Act ii — the nurse, who was 
playing with Feodor, gives a shriek of surprise as she curtsies, and 
he mutters angrily: "Well, am I a wild beast and you a frightened 

This difference need not necessarily be regarded as telling against 
the second conception: but in a drama in which the principal 
character plays so outstanding a part, the fact that this principal 
character should be of commanding stature has its value. 

The following excerpts from the two versions of the monologue 
will illustrate the contrast: 

Oh, fools and dupes are we 

Who, when we hear our people shout our praise, 

Are moved to take a pride in idle power! 

God raised His hand in wrath upon our land, 

My people groan, my people die of hunger. 

By my orders all were fed and clothed, 

And gold I dealt out to all; provided work for many; 

And yet the fools ignore my deeds and curse me. 

Whenever fire destroys their hearths and homes, 

Or when the storm tears down their wretched hovels. 

Forthwith I have new homes for them erected, 

I provide for all their wants, and I watch and I protect them. 

But they lay blame on me for all that happens. 

Thus am I judged! [This text is Pushkin's] 

{Lost in thought) 

How heavy is the hand of God in his wrath, 



How merciless a doom awaits the sinner ! 

In gloom I tread, grim darkness surrounds me, 

No single ray of light brings solace. 

My heart is torn with anguish, is hopeless and weary. 

Nought avails me. 

{In a whisper) 

A secret terror haunts me, I wait, I tremble, 

With all my heart I implore saints and angels 

And God I beseech to grant me mercy. 

And I, I with all my power. Tsar of Russia, 

I, feared and envied, in tears I vainly beg for mercy. 

There are equally significant differences in the music. What was 
called, here, the 'anger' motive (Ex. 27) does not appear at all in 
the final version of the second act. On the other hand a smoother 
motive, taken from Salammbo, 


Andante PP 

'/b"i>i.i> 1^ - I 


1/ P 1/ =p: 

How heav - y is the hand of God in his wrath, How 

my J J'l i J r r- F^ r ir r ^ i 

mer • ci - less a doom a-waits the sin • ner! 

is used extensively in the monologue (vocal score, p. 188). So is 
what may be called the Tear' motive: 



j: k? 


In the initial version it is first heard when Shuisky tells the 
Tsar: "The King, the nobles, the priests are on his side", and it 
plays but a small part afterwards. In the final version it is heard 
repeatedly in the dialogue with Shuisky: vocal score, p. 213, 
"Now, quickly, get to work!" piano — instead of the fierce, imper- 
ious music fortissimo in the initial version, pp. 143-4; ^^^ P- 214, 
instead of the harping iterations of the Dimitri motive (see supra, 
Ex. 21). The hallucination music, too, is used several times, 
instead of breaking out at the end of the scene only. 

A good many of the alterations in the final version and of the 


1872 - 1873 

cuts either therein or in the 1874 vocal score had the effect of 
reducing the number of thematic allusions or reappearances of the 
motives, e.g. the twenty-seven bar cut shown p. 334 of the vocal 
score. This may be mere accident, but it may also be the outcome 
of advice given by Mussorgsky's anti-Wagnerian friends (see 
infra^ p. 177, the reference to Cui's article of 1874 on Boris) » 

Sometimes the result is to the good: in the final version the 
music when Shuisky describes his watch by Dimitri's body, based 
on new, non-thematic materials, is far more poetic and telling 
than that in the initial version, based on the Dimitri motive. In all 
such comparisons bearing on isolated points, judgment is bound to 
be very much a matter of personal feeling. For instance, the 
present writer holds that Xenia's lament is finer, more original, 
more poignant, in the initial version than in the final; but other 
critics, including Newman and Blom, have declared their 
preference for the second version. There are points, however, on 
which a more or less general agreement is likely. 

The opening scene of Act ii, with the children's songs and play, 
is delightful and falls into place admirably. The same may be 
said of the parrot episode. Musically, all this belongs to 
Mussorgsky's best. The final version of the hallucination scene 
gains through being on a bigger scale. Not that it is longer: it is, 
in fact, shorter by one bar. But the scheme is broader and bolder. 
The fuller, more diversified scoring, the design and spacing of the 
vocal phrases, the added touches (and principally the clock with 
the chimes and puppets) greatly increase the effectiveness. Here, as 
in the revolution scene, Mussorgsky is a little more effusive, more 
inclined to give rein to his musical imagination. 

The Polish act, from the dramatic point of view, is purely and 
simply an interlude. It serves to relieve the tension, and intro- 
duces a strong contrast — maybe, considering its length, too large 
a measure of contrast. It is all very well to say that it illustrates an 
important chapter in the story, but there remains to be con- 
sidered how this is done. Nothing momentous happens in it. The 
characters are shown plotting against Boris, but all they actually 
do is to talk. That Rangoni, the Jesuit, should wish to secure a 
hold on the Pretender through Marina does not affect the issue 
any more than the nobleman's boasts: 

We shall bring our captives to your feet, sweet ladies ! 
We shall put to flight Boris and all his armies ! 



Rangoni, however, is by far the most interesting character in 
the act. Far more than the flippant and ambitious Marina, or the 
love-sick Pretender, this grim figure (invented by Mussorgsky 
for the occasion, not taken from Pushkin's play) stirred his imagina- 
tion strongly. Hence the music, whether it expresses Rangoni's 
ascetic nature and fanaticism (vocal score, pp. 245 ff., 267) or 
corroborates his calculated eloquence when he discourses on the 
power of passion and carnal pleasures (pp. 249 ff., 262 ff.), stands 
out for its vigour and originality, reaching the same high level in 
characterization as the music of the other acts. 

The chorus of the maids of honour is a gem of its kind — music 
in a vein seldom encountered in Mussorgsky's output, light, 
graceful, dainty, poetic, most delicately wrought (the only other 
example is the song *A Garden by the Don'). There are lovely 
things, too, in the garden scene — especially the beginning of the 
duet. The polonaise is bright and spirited. On the other hand, a 
good deal of the music of either scene is indifferent. 

Comparing the two versions in the aggregate, we see that all 
the criticisms describing Boris as badly constructed apply to the 
final form only. The Polish act is loosely connected with the rest; 
and it is possible to displace the revolution scene for the simple 
reason that the Tsar does not appear in it. His death may be 
regarded as having occurred at any time during the Pretender's 
march on Moscow. So, in theory, there is no compulsion to show 
either scene first. If it is felt that the revolution scene embodies 
the real conclusion of the tragedy, and is even more soul-stirring 
than the Duma and death scene, the conclusion will naturally 
follow that to tamper with the order prescribed by Mussorgsky is 
absurd. Besides, no reason for so doing is conceivable, except the 
assumption that opera audiences cease to be interested from the 
moment the principal singer's fate is sealed. 

Even before finishing the new version Mussorgsky started show- 
ing it to his friends. On 20 September 1871, Borodin informed his 
wife that the Polish act had been added, and the second act trans- 
formed. "All this", he remarked "is splendid". The next day he 
wrote: "How very fine Boris is now! Simply magnificent. I am 
convinced that if it is produced, it will carry the day. It is strange 
that it should impress musicians more favourably than Rimsky- 
Korsakof 's Maid of Pskof, I did not expect this at all. Our Mitia 
[Borodin's half-brother, Dimitri Alexandrof] is wild with excite- 
ment." He reverted to Boris on 12 November: "Last Friday, the 


I872-I873 ' 

whole opera was played at the Purgolds' except for the last act. 

Many such private readings took place during the autumn in 
the homes of Mussorgsky's friends — Shestakova's, the Purgolds', 
and others. Mussorgsky or Nadejda Purgold sat at the piano, and 
among the singers Stassof mentions with special praise Nadejda's 
sister, Alexandra. Two famous singers, Platonova and Komissar- 
jevsky, sang excerpts at a party given by Lukashevitch, the head 
of the settings and costumes departments of the Imperial Theatres. 

According to a letter of 25 October from Borodin to his wife, 
Balakiref disapproved, if not of Boris as a whole, at least of many 
things in it. After having explained that Balakiref was getting very 
difficult, and had been distressing or angering, by his growing 
indifference and by acrimonious criticisms, most of the members 
of the circle,* Borodin continues: "Modinka is offended by his 
unjust and arrogant remarks on Boris, bitingly and tactlessly 
uttered in the presence of people who certainly ought not to have 
heard them." 

At the end of the winter, however, Balakiref agreed to perform 
the polonaise from the third act at a Free School of Music concert. 
The following note, which Mussorgsky wrote to him on 22 March, 
shows that he thought a modicum of precaution was advisable : 

If you, my very dear friend, find the Polonaise worthy of being per- 
formed at your concerts, I rejoice: and I have no objection to your 
putting it at the end of a programme : those members of the audience 
who really wish to hear it will remain. And for what I can read between 
the lines of your letter I thank you from the bottom of my heart. By 
performing the Polonaise you will do me a great service : it is necessary 
for me to hear my orchestration without the participation of the chorus. 
I have never had an opportunity to do so. 

The performance took place on 3 April. On 5 February the 
coronation scene was given at a concert of the Russian Music 
Society, Napravnik conducting. 

On 6 May, the committee of the Imperial Theatres examined 
the opera in its new version, and again rejected it. The matter 
was reconsidered in the autumn; the verdict remained unchanged. 
The situation seemed hopeless ; but some of Mussorgsky's friends 

* At that time, Balakiref was very much depressed and embittered in consequence 
of his long and unsuccessful struggles against difficulties of all kinds. Soon afterwards a 
breakdown in his energies, physical and mental, led to his temporary retirement from 
the musical world^. But to the end of his life he found much to criticise in Boris. 



took the matter in hand. At a meeting that took place at the 
Purgolds' home, Gennadi Kondratief, a singer (who later became 
stage-manager in chief of the Petersburg Opera), decided that the 
programme of his benefit performance, to take place on 5 
February, would include three scenes from Boris, Lukashevitch 
gave his warm support, and after having encouraged Kondratief 
to take the momentous decision, he greatly promoted the success 
of the venture by the excellent work he put into preparing the 

Thus did it come to pass that the public career of Boris Godunof 
began, without official sanction, on the stage of the Marinsky 
Theatre on 5 February 1873, a curious point being that Tsar Boris 
did not appear in any of the three scenes selected — the inn scene 
and the whole Polish act. 

The cast consisted of Kondratief (Rangoni),Platonova (Marina), 
Petrof (Varlaam), Leonova (the Hostess) and Komissarjevsky 
(the Pretender) ; Napravnik conducted, acquitting himself of the 
task brilliantly, although there had been two rehearsals only.* 

According to all testimonies, it was a triumph for Mussorgsky. 
Rimsky-Korsakof records that "the three scenes took the audience 
by storm. Mussorgsky rejoiced, and so did we all. After the show, 
he, Stassof, my sister-in-law, Alexandra and others assembled at 
our house. At supper we drank champagne to the speedy produc- 
tion and success of the whole Boris. The Peterburgskaya Gazeta said: 
"After the inn scene, the composer had to take six calls. This is all 
the more remarkable considering that The Stone Guest, Ratcliffe, 
Serof 's Power of Evil and The Maid of Pskof when first produced, 
did not quite fall flat, but were received without favour." 

The Peterburgsky Listok proclaimed that "the only people to be 
astonished at the success would be those who had failed to recog- 
nize the work's merit and refused to produce it." Laroche, the 
very influential critic of the Golos, who a year later was to inveigh 
against Boris mercilessly — and who disliked Mussorgsky's "child- 
ish, clumsy, cacophonic" songs, declared that he had been 

* The next day Mussorgsky wrote to him a letter in which his delight and 
gratitude were expressed in hyperbolic terms. This, Andrei Rimsky-Korsakof remarks,* 
may have been partly diplomacy, eagerness to win over the man who might have the 
last say in the matter of producing Boris. Mussorgsky was aware that Napravnik dis- 
approved of Boris for aesthetic reasons; but he was capable of disinterestedly and 
objectively appreciating Napravnik's qualities and activities. In 1876 when there was 
a danger of Napravnik's contract with the Imperial Theatres not being renewed, he 
was greatly worried. When the danger was averted, he wrote to Shestakova, "Thank 
God, Russian opera is saved". 


1872 - 1873 

amazed by the beauty of two of the excerpts. He did not Hke the 
first scene of the Pohsh act, but found no fault with the inn scene 
and the scene by the fountain. Of the former he wrote: "A 
splendid study in the comic genre. The musical characterization 
of Varlaam, of the Hostess, of the police officer, shows the com- 
poser's sense of individual expressions — a very rare quality. In the 
Kazan song, both the melody and the orchestral variations 
betoken rare power, and the harmony is plastic and brilliant — 
the very last thing I expected from Mr. Mussorgsky." And of the 
latter: "It is instinct with poetic beauty and softness of a kind not 
to be found in any of Mr. Mussorgsky's published compositions. 
All three scenes, but especially this one, are beautifully scored. 
The composer has probably devoted much time and labour to 
studying orchestration. Why did he not do the same for harmony 
and counterpoint?" 

Among those who expressed unfavourable opinions, Solovief 
was the most hostile. He described Mussorgsky's aims as unhealthy 
and inartistic, granting, however, that the composer had a sense of 
dramatic effects — but purely external effects, never achieved by 
simple, straightforward means. The music, he said, was clumsy 
and discordant, the scoring better but uneven. The composer, 
through his ignorance and desire to be new and egregious at all 
cost, achieved barbaric, hideous results. 

Cui began his notice in the Sankt Peterburgskye Viedomosti by 
proclaiming that never had a composer received such ovations at 
the Marinsky Theatre. The inn scene, he said, was a masterpiece, 
written in the style of The Stone Guest and worthy of comparison 
with The Stone Guest (to his mind, the acme of praise). In the Polish 
act he found many merits, and not a few shortcomings. Generally 
speaking, he averred, Mussorgsky thought too much of dramatic 
truth and far too little of the quality of his music. 

Thus, at the very outset, before Boris had been heard in full, the 
position was what it remained for nearly half a century : on the 
one hand, admiration aroused by the beauty and power of 
the work; on the other hand, objections to the composer's allegedly 
incorrect, and certainly unconventional methods and style. But 
the production of the three scenes was to have far-reaching con- 

The first was that Bessel, the publisher, decided to bring out the 
vocal score of Boris. On 3 May, Mussorgsky wrote to Stassof: 
"Dear, glorious, most glorious Generalissime ! Great news! Tomka! 



Epikhan! Stand by, all of you!' [a line in the revolution scene] 
Great news! I am thoroughly happy! I am in a mood to talk, 
write and behave foolishly. Thanks to you, dear friend, the work 
dear to both of us is saved." On the i6th, Stassof received another 
excited note: "My wonderful Generalissime, do not await me for 
dinner. I must go to Bessel's to set Boris in order for publication. 
It is urgent. Await me at 9 p.m. or so." To Bessel Mussorgsky had 
written, two days earlier: "My reply to your letter of 2 May: here 
is the manuscript of Boris. I prepared it with all possible speed. 
We shall discuss terms, I suppose, in a few days and set down on 
paper that which we agreed upon verbally." 

On 22 October he informed Bessel that the Director had decided 
to produce Boris and asked him to have the vocal score ready by 
the end of November. But it was only on 4 January 1874 that he 
finished reading the proofs and returned them, with a note which 
said: "Please send to Roder [the Leipzig engraver] one of the 
enclosed dedications according to your own choice. I should like 
it to be engraved in facsimile, and hope you will agree. Anyhow, 
please have my name appear in facsimile." This note was followed 
by another: "Please have the dedication in facsimile transferred 
so that it comes immediately after the title-page. Your activities 
fully entitle you to a share in it." No trace remains of the dedica- 
tion in which Bessel was mentioned. One manuscript dedication, 
now in the Leningrad State Library, runs : 

I regard the people as one great being, inspired by one idea. This 
is my problem. I strove to solve it in this opera. 
To you all, who by your good advice and sympathy enabled me 
to see myself on the stage, I dedicate my work. 

M. Mussorgsky 
21 January, 1874. 

This too remained unused. In a few of the copies of the first \ 
edition of the vocal score the following dedication is printed : 

To you all, who by your kind words and sympathy gave me the 
possibility to accomplish the task that lay at the basis of the opera 
Boris Godunof I dedicate my work. 

M. Mussorgsky 

A notice appeared in Bessel's periodical, the Muzykalny Listok, 
inviting subscriptions to the vocal score, the price to subscribers 


1872- 1873 

being ten silver roubles per copy. The list was to close on i January 
1874, after which date the price would be fifteen roubles. So far as 
can be surmised, the score appeared on or about 15 January — 
that is, less than a fortnight before the first performance. 

It is not possible to ascertain exactly how the Director came to 
change his mind. A few years after Mussorgsky's death, Platonova 
wrote to Stassof a long letter (he quoted from it in an article of 
1886, entitled 'In memory of Mussorgsky', and the full text 
appeared in 1895, 2) the substance of which was that in 1873 when 
the question of renewing her contract arose, she wrote to Gedeonof 
that she would not renew it unless it was made to include the 
stipulation that Boris Godunof would be produced for her benefit 
performance; and that after many picturesque episodes — 
including the calling of a special committee meeting — she 
carried the day because the management could not do without 

According to Andrei Rimsky-Korsakof, the story (which looms 
large in all biographies of Mussorgsky written before 1932) is 
inaccurate in several respects. The letter Platonova wrote to 
Gedeonof (on 11 April 1873) is preserved in the archives of the 
theatre. She simply asked that a clause in her new contract should 
give her the right to have "a new opera" for her benefit per- 
formance. (This, it would seem, was not a new idea: the first 
performance of The Maid of Pskof had been given on her benefit 
night on i January of that very year 1873). But no such clause 
was inserted in her contract. Nor was a special committee meeting 
called in 1873 to reconsider the matter. 




BORIS GODUNOF on the Stage 

The Petersburg Opera and its public — Boris splendidly pro- 
duced but ruthlessly cut — Its triumphal success — Hostile critics 
— Cui^s attack — History of Boris until Mussorgsky s death 
— Further cuts 

AT the time the situation, as regards native opera, was peculiar 
and unsatisfactory. There were in Petersburg two opera theatres. 
One, the Grand Theatre, was used for Itahan opera only, with 
Adelina Patti and Christine Nilsson as star prime donne. At the 
other, the Marinsky, the repertory comprised, besides operas by 
foreign composers the most popular of which was Gounod's 
Faust, a small number of Russian operas, among which only 
Glinka's A Life for the Tsar and Serof 's Judith and Rogneda had 
scored genuine success. Glinka's admirable Ruslan and Liudmila 
was slowly finding favour after a bad start in 1842. Dargomyjsky's 
operas and Cui's Ratcliffe had left the public cold. The Maid of 
Pskof despite the mixed reception it had met with and the abuse 
poured on it by the Press, was playing to good houses and (Rimsky- 
Korsakof says in his Memoirs) was popular with a steadily in- 
creasing number of students and young people generally. The 
number of new operas produced year in, year out, was not great, 
as the following list will show : 

i860 Rossini's Otello 

1862 Meyerbeer's Huguenots \ Verdi's Forza del destino 

1863 SeroVs Judith 

1867 Kashperof's The Tempest 

1868 Gluck's Orfeo (actually the first Petersburg performance); 
Napravnik's The JVijni-JVovgorodians; Verdi's Traviata; 
Wagner's Lohengrin 

1869 00^106^5 Faust; Cui^s Ratcliffe 

1870 Moniuszko's Halka 

1 87 1 Serof 's Hostile Power; Thomas's Mignon 

1872 Dargomijsky's The Stone Guest 



1873 Gounod's Mireille; Rimsky-Korsakof's The Maid of Pskof 

The public was essentially one of dilettanti whose interest 
centred almost exclusively on bel canto and on Italian opera. One 
testimony to that effect may be quoted: that of the playwright 

In those days, splendid performances of Russian operas were given, 
but the attendance was generally poor. Maybe the repertory was not 
to the public taste. Maybe our native singers were less popular than the 
Italians, especially the ladies. Anyhow, to attend the Russian opera 
was not fashionable. At the first performance of The Maid of Pskof there 
was a good deal of protest. An energetic campaign was being waged 
against 'the music of the future' — that is, that of the 'mighty handful'. 
Splendid artists such as Petrof, Melnikof and Lavrovskaya often sang 
to half-empty halls {Istoritchesky Viestnik, 1898) 

The first performance of Boris took place on 27 January 1874 — 
not 24 January, as said and repeated by various authors on the 
strength of a misprint in the first edition of the biography of 
Stassof The cast was : 

Boris Godunof 

Grigory (the Pretender) 






The Nurse 




The Hostess 

The Simpleton 

The Police Officer 


The Boyar in attendance 

The Boyar Khrushchef 

The Two Jesuits 


Komissarj evsky 


Vassilief I 

Vassilief II 


(Mrs.) V. Raab 











Vassilief I and Sobolef 

Napravnik conducted : the producer was Kondratief 



The settings were those designed by two speciaHsts of repute, 
Shishkof and Botcharof, for a production of Pushkin's Boris 
Godunof in 1870 — when, Stassof tells us, they had been so greatly 
admired that the designers had to take calls on the stage. Accord- 
ing to Yakoulef*^ both were progressive 'for the period'. Shishkof 's 
designs have been preserved, and show that "his settings, although 
conventional, were conscientiously and indeed brilliantly con- 
ceived and executed". The work was cut down ruthlessly, the 
whole scene in the cell being left out (probably for fear of the 
State censorship) and the third and fourth acts considerably 
shortened. The information given in one journal Vsiemirnaya 
Illustratsia (2 February 1874), that "the hall was sold out four days 
before the first performance, despite the nearly triple prices " 
suggests that keen interest had been aroused. 

The success with the public was enormous, as even Mussorgsky's 
most relentless opponents acknowledged. There were, unavoid- 
ably, a few dissenters. Press notices were far less favourable than 
they had been the previous year. In the Birjevye Viedomosti Solovief 's 
article was one long unqualified indictment. It described 
Mussorgsky as a clumsy and misguided imitator of Dargomyjsky 
and Boris as a "cacophony in four acts". Laroche in the Golos 
was less sweeping. He found Mussorgsky ignorant and clumsy, 
but gifted, independent, capable of genuine originality. In many 
parts o^ Boris he saw coarse, clumsy imitation of Serof Mussorgsky, 
he alleged, was so ill equipped for composition that if denied 
access to a piano, he would forthwith cease to be a composer. 

In Bessel's Muzykalny Listok Famyntsin denounced the music as 
disorderly and shapeless. The scoring he found satisfactory in 
certain respects, and he praised the recitatives. If the harmonic 
style, the part-writing, and here and there the scoring were 
overhauled, the opera, he added, would prove acceptable, for it 
embodied a praiseworthy ideal. He expressed regret that the 
scene in the cell and the parrot episode should have been cut out. 
In the Muzykalny Sviet two articles appeared: one by the editor, 
Makarof, and the other by an unidentified writer signing himself 
'Orfei'. Both declared that Boris was inferior to Serof 's operas. 
Makarof grudgingly acknowledged Mussorgsky's sense of dramatic 
effect. 'Orfei' paid a moderately warm tribute to his progressive 
tendencies and originality. Rapoport in the Russky Mir described 
him as gifted but misguided, and his music as "noisy, chaotic, 
conceived and carried out on a puny scale". In Dostoevsky's 



periodical the Grajdanin three articles by Strakhof (not a musician, 
but a fairly well-known author and a sworn foe of realism in art) 
appeared in the form of letters to the editor. Strakhof regarded 
Boris as an unexampled monstrosity, a hotch-potch of all the 
conflicting elements that characterize the Russian mind: "Think 
of our crass ignorance and illiteracy ; of our sense of music and 
song ; of our repudiation of art and our live artistic instinct ; of our 
love for the people and contempt of the people ; of our bold en- 
deavour to achieve originality and our slavish submission to the 
narrowest theories; of our talent and our sterility, our lack of 
artistic imagination. All that is present, and the outcome is 

The most favourable notice was that which appeared in the 
Peterburgsky Listok under the signature 'Foma Pizzicato' — the 
pseudonym, according to Andrei Rimsky-Korsakof, of the musical 
critic Baskin. Like several other critics, he failed to perceive the 
tragic significance of certain comic episodes, and even of the 
Simpleton, incredible as it may seem ; and this led him to declare 
in all earnestness that Mussorgsky might some day occupy in 
Russian music a place similar to Auber's in French music. ^' But he 
extolled Mussorgsky's originality and power. Speaking of the part 
of Tsar Boris, he said: "dramatization in music can go no further. 
The composer reveals himself as a philosopher among musicians 
and has a rare gift for expressing the psychology of his subject". 
Alone among the critics of the time, he praised Mussorgsky's 
musical knowledge, command of the orchestra, fluency of diction, 
and fine choral writing. This article must have counterbalanced 
Cesar Cui's in the Sankt Peterburgskye Viedomosti. It was as hostile 
as his article of 1873 had been. 

The libretto, it said, was feeble, consisting of scenes so loosely 
connected that their order could be changed and some of them 
left out. Mussorgsky was so deficient in the capacity to compose 
instrumental music that he had elected to start without a prelude. 
The first scene was fine, the coronation very poor. The cutting 
out of the scene in the cell was justified, most of it being poor in 
musical substance. Mussorgsky was too fond of crude tone-painting 
and of limning details. He had borrowed from Wagner the cheap 
method of characterization by leitmotives. The inn scene was fine. 
The first part of Act ii contained many beauties, but practically 
all that followed upon the parrot scene (which Cui described as 
"the acme of perfection") was feeble. There were many weaknesses 



in the Polish act. The first part of the fourth act was marred by 
crude tone-painting and puny imitative effects. The death scene 
was masterly, the revolution scene likewise. But, had Mussorgsky 
been less deficient in capacity for working out, he could have done 
far better in the central choral section. The conclusion ran : 

Mr. Mussorgsky is endowed with great and original talent but 
Boris is an immature work, superb in parts, feeble in others. Its main 
defects are in the disjointed recitatives and the disarray of the musical 
ideas. At times the music sounds like a mere potpouri. These defects 
are not due to lack of creative power. Far from it : remember the two 
scenes of the people, the inn scene — how melodic and characteristic, 
how natural and flowing the musical discourse is! The real trouble is 
his immaturity, his incapacity for severe self-criticism, his self-satisfac- 
tion and his hasty methods of composition — akin to those which Messrs. 
Rubinstein and Tchaikovsky [Cui's pet abominations] follow with 
such deplorable results. Let us hope that in his next opera, he will 
steer clear of those errors and display nothing but his rare gifts. 

All in all, these articles express the views that were to prevail 
for nearly half a century. All critics agreed as to the poverty of his 
technique, except 'Foma Pizzicato', then an unknown debutant 
whose utterances were unlikely to carry much weight (and were, 
moreover, not supported by any kind of argument) . The notion 
that Boris required correcting and remodelling crops up in 
Famyntsin's notice. In Strakhof 's it is not difficult to discern the 
expression (maybe unconscious) of the feeling of certain Russians 
who were ashamed of Mussorgsky's music because it was so 
thoroughly and exclusively Russian — exactly as in 1842 many 
people had dismissed Glinka's Ruslan and Liudmila as "mere 
cabman's music". Laroche's summed up views prevalent in 
official circles and Famyntsin's represented the more literal 
outlook of narrow-minded theorists. 

Hostile critics naturally made capital out of Cui's verdict. 
Solovief likened Cui to Brutus rising against Caesar who was 
attempting to wreck the republic. Laroche declared that he must 
have felt compelled to speak the truth, and so had become the 
clique's most dangerous enemy, and Strakhof pointed out that the 
opera had displeased even the people who were prejudiced in its 

Mussorgsky, who until then "had believed in Cui stupidly and 
bhndly" (as Vladimir Stassof wrote to his brother Dimitri on 



23 August 1873), was cruelly hurt. He may not have cared two 
pins what other critics had said, but this was altogether another 
matter. It hurt him all the more for the reason that Cui also 
referred, in deliberately malevolent terms, to an unpleasant 
incident that had taken place on the first night. A small group of 
lady admirers had sent a laurel wreath for presentation to 
Mussorgsky on the stage ; but this public tribute was not allowed to 
take place. The ladies complained in a letter to the Sankt Peter- 
burgsky Viedomosti, accusing Napravnik of being responsible for the 
prohibition. Mussorgsky, in the same journal, protested against 
this accusation, stating that "not feeling so audacious as to accept 
a pathetic homage on the occasion of the first performance of his 
first opera, he himself had suggested that the wreath should not be 
presented until the audience had left the hall, when the presenta- 
tion took place in one of the green-rooms". (The truth apparently 
is that the wreath, together with three others which had also 
been intercepted, was carried to his home by Mrs. Stassova.) He 
also expressed his regret at the incident in a private letter to 
Napravnik. And to Stassof he wrote, the next morning: "My dear 
Ge'neralissime, I implore you, do not print the story in the Press. 
The consequences might be the very last thing you would wish 
to happen : the withdrawal of Boris. I beseech you for the sake of 
all the love you bear me." But both Cui and Laroche commented 
on the affair with ponderous irony, and possibly Stassof was not as 
discreet as Mussorgsky had implored him to be, for Mussorgsky 
wrote to him a week later: 

My dear Generalissime, always dear, despite everything and everybody. 
I was angry, as a wicked woman in love might be. I despaired and 
fumed . . . now I am sad and indignant, indignant and sad. How 
horrible Cui's article is ! No educated man should ever dare to behave 
with women as he has with his thoughtless jests. Shame to him who, 
publicly, in print, derides women whose bold move has elicited, I hear, 
nothing but sympathy. What I myself feel is another matter : I keep 
silence and shall not forget this kind deed of his. In my anger against 
you — you, my friend who did not heed my prayer — I was brutal . . . the 
devil take polite small talk. I was unkind to you at the theatre, yet I 
declare proudly that neither at supper at Dimitri's [Stassof 's brother's] 
house, nor even at the theatre, was I mean, nor did I belittle your love 
for me. I repeat it: whatever happens, I cannot tear myself away 
from you; I love you strongly, and your face suddenly grown pale 
showed me that your love for me is equally strong. I am glad of our 



bond : it has strengthened and encouraged me — for people to join issue 
thus is good, is significant. Now I have told you all, and I stand before 
you as I am. 

So, maybe, Boris had to be produced for me to see myself and see 
other people too. The tone of Cui's article is hateful! How rashly he 
inveighs against my 'self-satisfaction'. The brainless fellow is not 
content with my always having been humble and diffident, as I shall 
remain so long as my brains do not wither. This senseless onslaught, 
this deliberate lie renders me blind : it is as if a wave of soapy water 
had arisen, covering everything. — Self-satisfaction! ! ! Precipitate methods! 
Immaturity! Whose? Whose? ... I'd like to know. 

Well: a woman who loves feels, on the strength of various portents, 
the coming of any danger that may threaten her beloved. You often 
said: "I fear Cui with regard to Boris' \ Your loving intuition was right. 
And after such a thunderbolt of a proof of your love, could I cease to 
love you ? ! ! Vade retro, Satanas ! 

The effect of the Press notices upon the public was not great. 
The dilettanti may have found in them the confirmation of their 
indignant feelings. The younger generation was and remained 
enthusiastic, not only for the music but also on account of the 
democratic spirit of many scenes, and especially the revolution 
scene. Stassof describes the young people cheering wildly and 
singing through the streets the choral portions of the work. 

His statement that "twenty performances took place to crowded 
houses" is not accurate. Yakovlef's investigations*^ establish that, 
in 1874, Boris was given ten times to full houses, twice to nearly 
full houses, once to a good house, and once to a house one-third 
empty. The average takings were 1,985 roubles against 2,085, 
that year, for Ruslan and Liudmila; 1,768 for A Life for the Tsar; 
1,847 fo^ Gounod's Faust; and 1,443 f^^ ^^^ Maid of Pskqf In 
1875 two performances took place, both to practically full houses; 
in 1876 another two with fair takings. It was mercilessly cut down 
for the occasions, the opening scene and the revolution scene 
being left out, so that the only scenes given were : the coronation, 
the inn, the Tsar's apartments, the two scenes of the Polish act, 
and the Council and death. It was rumoured that the Court 
disapproved of the opera, especially of the revolution scene. 

In 1877 there were five performances, and the takings gradually 
dwindled. There was one performance in 1878; Mussorgsky 
attended and had to take several calls. The takings were good. In 
February 1879 — a couple of weeks after the scene in the cell had 



been given its first performance at a Free School of Music concert, 
Rimsky-Korsakof conducting — Boris was given its last perform- 
ance during Mussorgsky's lifetime. The takings nearly reached 
the maximum. Thus twenty-one performances took place within 
almost exactly five years — a fairly satisfactory number, considering 
the management's hostility and the advanced character of the 
work. Of all the operas performed during the same period, only 
Ruslan and Liudmila and Rubinstein's The Demon showed equally 
good average takings. 

On II December 1881, nine months after Mussorgsky's death, 
the twenty-second performance took place, to a full house. Another 
four were given in 1882, and that year on 8 November, by decree 
of the Committee, Boris was withdrawn from the repertory. 



The Pictures from an Exhibition — The work on 
Khovanshchina and The Sorotchintsi Fair — Nadejda 
Opotchinina^s death — Leonova — Mussorgsky unable to resist 
his dipsomania — Ups and downs — The song-set Sunless — 
Fresh disquisitions on art — The JVaumof family — Decline in 
his capacity for work — Money difficulties increase — Concert 
tour with Leonova — Help from friends — He vainly tries to 
work at both his operas jointly — Final collapse and death 

WITH the production of Boris, Mussorgsky scored the one great 
pubHc triumph — not unmixed, but still very real — in his career. 
It came, alas ! at a time when dipsomania had taken hold of him 
for good. He must have done his utmost to put up a fight, and it 
seems that he succeeded, at least temporarily. 

For a while it may have seemed as though he had entirely 
regained his self-control. All through the winter and spring of 
1874 he was busily at work, carrying on with Khovanshchina and 
(in May) beginning the song-set Sunless, In June, Stassof having 
organized a commemorative exhibition of Hartmann's designs 
and paintings, it occurred to him to pay tribute to his friend's 
memory by composing a piano suite. Pictures from an Exhibition. 
He carried the work through speedily. " Hartmann is seething", 
he wrote to Stassof in June, "as Boris was. Sounds and ideas float 
in the air and my scribbling can hardly keep pace with them". 
The suite was finished on 22 June. It consisted often pieces, each 
of them inspired by one of the exhibits, with a prelude entitled 
'Promenade' the music of which reappears several times in the 
shape of interludes: its main motive also appears in two of the 
pieces, *Catacombae' and 'The Knights' Gate at Kief. In this 
'Promenade', Mussorgsky explained to Stassof,^ he had evoked 
himself "roving through the exhibition, now leisurely, now briskly 
in order to come close to a picture that had attracted his attention, 
and at times sadly, thinking of his departed friend." The whole 
suite, the most important of his instrumental compositions 


1874- i88i 

after A Night on the Bare Mountain, is an attractive but not par- 
ticularly significant work. 

In July, unexpectedly — ^and not very wisely considering the 
importance of the task he had undertaken in Khovanshchina — 
he suddenly decided to compose a comic opera on the subject of 
one of Gogol's Ukrainian tales, The Sorotchintsi Fair. To his friend 
Liubov Karmalina (she was the wife of a staff officer, and a 
gifted singer, keenly interested in the work of the group, and she 
was helping Mussorgsky to find traditional chants of the Old 
Believers for use in Khovanshchina) he explained : 

A voice from the air has been calling "heave to!" and Khovanshchina 
must wait. This will mean husbanding my creative powers well. Two 
heavyweights such as Boris and Khovanshchina in succession might prove 
too much. And the comic opera will have the advantage of providing 
different characters and a different setting. The elements of Ukrainian 
songs are so little known that incompetent experts regard these songs 
as counterfeits (counterfeits of what ?) . And these songs are available in 
great numbers so my work is cut out : may I have the needful strength 
and wisdom. Meanwhile, Khovanshchina will not lie fallow. But the 
moods of creative fancy are elusive, more fickle than the most fickle of 
coquettes: when they come one must seize them, and unreservedly 
yield to their erratic dictates. 

But the principal reason was, no doubt, his longing to devise a 
fine big part for his friend Petrof, the singer, his admiration and 
love for whom had been developing steadily ever since the per- 
formance of scenes from Boris. He did not realize that the task of 
composing two operas jointly (for this was bound to be the out- 
come of the "erratic dictates" of his fancy) would be the reverse of 
economy of creative power — would inevitably prove too much 
for him. Obviously, he was in a buoyant frame of mind, and 
teeming with musical ideas. Sunless, the greater part of which he 
composed between May and August (the opening number was 
composed in November only), represents a peak in his output. 
But the craving for drink soon got hold of him again. 

Maybe one of the reasons was a cruel blow that had suddenly 
struck him: on 29 June his beloved friend Nadejda Opotchinina 
died, at the age of fifty-three. How great his distress was will 
never be known. Not a reference to her death appears in his 
correspondence, nor is there any record of his having spoken of it 



to any of his friends. But to her memory he paid a heartfelt tribute 
in a 'Funeral Epistle' for voice and piano which he started com- 
posing the very same day. The text is in the form of a personal 
address: "Few people realized the sweetness of your soul . . . after 
my beloved mother's death, when disaster overcame me and left 
me lonely, helpless and bitter, with you I found sanctuary and 
solace. ..." The music, simple and poignant, is in style and 
character closely related to that of Boris Godunof and especially 
to the Chancellor and the Pimen music. 

He left the song — if not actually unfinished, as is said by all the 
Russian critics — without a formal ending, and never took steps 
to have it performed or published. The manuscript was discovered 
many years after his death. 

According to Rimsky-Korsakof :^^ 

The year 1874 may be regarded as marking the beginning of his 
downfall, one of the main causes of which was the initial success of 
Boris, which increased his self-esteem, and its gradual collapse despite 
the favour it found with the public. Vladimir Stassof used to praise 
him unreasonably, and was forever putting him on his mettle. Inferior 
people, his boon companions, extolled him too; and on the other hand, 
he was irritated by the attacks of Laroche, Rostislav, and others, and 
annoyed even by the reasonable criticisms of his friends and colleagues. 
He sought our company more seldom, became taciturn and super- 
cilious. His way of expressing himself, which had always been obscure 
and complicated, became inordinately so. He would spend whole 
nights drinking hard at the Malo-Yaroslavets restaurant, alone or 
with new acquaintances unknown to us all. When dining with us or his 
other old friends, he nearly always refused wine, but he made up for 
this abstemiousness after having left. 

All this is unsympathetic in tone, and also far too summary. 
Rimsky-Korsakof would probably have been less harsh, and less 
ready to ascribe his friend's misfortune to wounded vanity had he 
known that the influence of the School for Cadets was the initial 
cause. Kompaneisky's revelations appeared long after this portion 
of the Memoirs had been written; and Mussorgsky, it will be 
remembered, did not care to speak of his years of youth (see 
supra, p. 19). Rimsky-Korsakof also seems to have been unaware 
of the crisis of 1873: at least, it may be noted that no letters 
referring to the matter passed between him and Stassof that year. 
One thing, however, is clear : all he has to say on the bare facts is 


1874- i88i 

It is difficult to determine how much of his description refers to 
1874. The decHne, as he himself says, was gradual. The year 
before, Mussorgsky, in his guarded avowal to Pauline Stassova, 
had assured her that the musician in him remained unaffected. 
He was wrong, alas. From that time on, inspiration continued 
to come to him freely now and then, as fresh and pure and far- 
reaching as ever: but his power for sustained and co-ordinated 
labour (acquired only a few years before in 1863 or so) was 
certainly impaired. He would no longer have been capable of a 
prolonged spell of hard work, such as he had put in when com- 
posing Boris and when remodelling it. Moreover, his health 
gradually became poorer. He suffered at various times from 
throat trouble and bronchitis, aggravated, it is said, by heavy 
smoking. To Liudmila Shestakova (to whom several times during 
the autumn he gave good news of his progress with Khovanshchina) 
he wrote, on 27 November: "I feel terribly weary owing to my 
office work. Khovanshchina goes well, but I have little time, and 
get very tired." 

In effect, during the seven years' span of life that remained to 
him, he turned out but little: Khovanshchina^ nearly completed in 
vocal score form, but ill-balanced and shapeless, portions of The 
Sorotchintsi Fair, a small number of songs, the Pictures from an 
Exhibition, and a few trifling instrumental pieces. 

It is true that a fair proportion of this meagre output is splendid 
music. Sunless especially. Three at least of the Songs and Dances of 
Death (the fourth is 'Field Marshal Death', impressive but more 
melodramatic and less outstandingly original) are admirable ; and 
the finest things in Khovanshchina are thoroughly representative of 
the genius that informs Boris Godunof 

In certain respects his style continued to evolve, especially so 
far as regards melody, upon which he tried to concentrate more 
and more, on the one hand, studying, in view of Khovanshchina, 
the chants of the Old Believers and especially their expressive 
ornament, on the other hand striving to progress towards a modi- 
fied form of realistic expression, and hoping to achieve a fusion of 
his dramatic style and his lyrical style from which he expected 
wonderful results. In the letter in which he informed Karmalina 
that Khovanshchina would have to wait, he had said: "The old 
tunes with which you so kindly supplied me show me that I am 
following the right line. I fully understand the grace-notes, the 
gruppetti, so to speak : unisono or in octaves, all this will ring wonder- 



fully true." And to Stassof on 25 December 1876, he wrote: " In 
Boris I gave scenes from the life of the people. Now I foresee 
a new kind of melody : the melody of life. With great pains I have 
achieved a new type of melody evolved from speech, and fused 
recitative and melody together. I should like to call the result 
well-thought-out, justified melody. Some day, the ineffable song 
will arise, intelligible to one and all. If I succeed I shall stand as a 
conqueror in art; and succeed I must." 

Sunless represents a step in that direction. It contains many 
examples of extremely supple and lyrical melody, standing half- 
way between the melodic recitative style o{ Boris (very different, 
let it be remembered, from Dargomyjsky's in which the melodic 
quality is provided by song elements diverted from their natural 
destination) and pure cantilena. The set also shows a marked 
advance in the matter of rare, sublimated harmonies, without 
ever a trace of roughness. In The Sorotchintsi Fair, on the contrary 
(except for the new version of ^ Night on the Bare Mountain which is 
used in it), and in many portions of Khovanshchina, the main 
interest is in the melody, the harmonic treatment being quite 
simple, and at times rudimentary. 

Of these points, all things considered, not one is of fundamental 
importance. Mussorgsky, despite his dreams and his efforts, did 
not come any closer to his ideals than he had done in Boris. Nor 
did any changes take place, or new features appear, in his psycho- 
logical make-up during this last period of his life. So that from this 
point on, the biographer's task becomes appreciably simpler. 

There is no need, for instance, to try to find out what, under 
more favourable circumstances, Khovanshchina might have been, 
by laboriously studying and comparing all that he told his friends 
about his plans for it and the portions he had composed or out- 
Hned, ultimately deciding to leave them out for some reason or 
other — one of these reasons being that he never succeeded in 
building up a really co-ordinated libretto, and another, that, as 
said by Karatyghin,^® he tried to cram into it stuff, the adequate 
treatment of which would have required a trilogy. 

Nor need we seek in his letters indications of undercurrents 
which, if they existed at all, exercised no action upon his life and 
work, or of germs not one of which was to prove fruitful: his 
evolution as man and artist had run its course. 

As already mentioned, he soon reverted to Khovanshchina. On 
20 April 1875 he informed Karmalina that he had decided not 


1874- i88i 

to proceed with The Sorotchintsi Fair. "A Great Russian cannot 
pretend to be a Little Russian. I cannot master Little Russian 

But he did not succeed in keeping away from it. He started 
work afresh on it in 1876, and later at various times. During the 
concert tour that he undertook with Daria Leonova in 1879, 
excerpts from it were given before Ukrainian audiences; and the 
music, he wrote to Stassof, was found thoroughly Ukrainian — 
which further encouraged him to carry on with it while still 
wrestling with Khovanshchina. 

The year 1875 was, on the whole, a well-filled one. Before the 
end of the winter Bessel announced the forthcoming publication of 
Sunless. In February, Mussorgsky began the Songs and Dances of 
Death, the first composed being the admirable 'Trepak'. On 13 
February a charity concert in aid of needy medical students took 
place. "The accompanist", the bill said, "will be Mr. Mussorgsky". 
On 9 March he appeared in the same capacity at a similar affair. 
Kompaneisky's recollections of that period entirely confirm 
Rimsky-Korsakof 's : 

Mussorgsky moved a good deal in aristocratic circles and was often 
asked to play and sing to audiences eager to behold the lion of the 
moment. Most of his hosts, instead of having the strength of character 
to restrain him, would think it their duty to ply him with the drink 
that was poison for him. He fared especially badly after Boris had been 
produced, when it became necessary to court popularity with influential 
people. Fame, too, went to his head, he drank too much at parties, 
and after the parties at the Malo-Yaroslavets restaurant. He was also 
in great request as an accompanist at students' concerts. The students 
worshipped him. And so, day after day, he squandered his energies 
and wrecked his health. 

On 5 March he was appointed senior head-clerk in his depart- 
ment, which goes to show that his work was still giving satisfaction. 
Some kind of trouble arose later in the year, however, for in 
December he complained to Liudmila Shestakova of "a vulgar 
Httle intrigue against him at the office". 

On 2 August he informed her that the first act o^ Khovanshchina 
was finished. On the 7th he gave the same news to Stassof: 

I am now tackling the second act. Hard is the task you have set me, 
but I must carry on. I cried "Towards new shores!" and there can be 
no turning back. How many new worlds and new aspects of life reveal 



themselves! They bewitch me, make me long to understand them, to 
possess them. They are difficult of access, one approaches them with 
awe : but when one gets close to them, one musters courage, and all is 
well. I have seen Rimsky-Korsakof. He has turned out sixteen fugues, 
each more complicated than the last — and that's all ! When will those 
people instead of turning out fugues and third acts, start reading sensible 
books and conversing with sensible persons ? Or is it too late ? Are they 
past curing ? That kind of thing is not what humanity expects to find in 
art. It is not in that direction that the artist's duty lies: life, wherever 
it reveals itself; truth, however pungent; bold, sincere point-blank 
speech — these are my leaven, these are what I want and am aiming at. 

On 19 October he denounced Cui and Rimsky-Korsakof even 
more angrily: 

When I think of certain artists who dare not cross the barrier, I feel 
not merely distressed, but sickened. All their ambition is to distil, one 
by one, carefully measured drops of prettiness. A real man would be 
ashamed of so doing. Devoid of wisdom and will-power, they entangle 
themselves in the bonds of tradition. The worst is that they had begun 
by proudly raising a new flag 'to the glory of human society'. Held in 
Balakiref 's iron grip, they breathed through his powerful lungs (but 
not as deep as his heroic breast did) and attempted tasks that might 
have caused stronger men to hesitate. When Balakiref's iron grip 
relaxed its hold, they felt tired, in need of rest. And where did they 
seek rest? In tradition, of course: "As our forbears did, so shall we do!" 
They laid down the glorious flag of war, they hid it carefully behind 
seven doors with seven locks. Then they rested and had a good rest. 
Without flag, without ambitions, not looking and not wishing to look 
ahead, they labour at things done long before, which nobody requires 
from them. Now and then voices of ducks from the mud-pond arise in 
praise of them. And how could they fail to be praised ? The 'mighty 
handful' have degenerated into soulless traitors. Their scourge has 
become a toy whip. Even in cloud-cuckoo-land you would not expect 
to find artists so indifferent to the essence of life, so useless to con- 
temporary art. 

Rimsky-Korsakof^^ says that Mussorgsky had started to regard 
him with suspicion simply because of his systematic study of 
harmony and counterpoint. But in another chapter he reveals that 
others too were dissatisfied with him, rightly or wrongly, at the 
moment. After Balakiref's retirement, he had taken charge of the 
Free School of Music; and his policy there, he says, was dis- 
approved of by Balakiref, Stassof and also Cui. This may help to 


1874- i88i 

account for Mussorgsky's attitude ; and also for the fact that Stassof 
in his reply to the above outburst, expressed his full approval: 
"Five hundred millions cheers for you, Mussorianin! I understand 
and love only such people as you, and from them only I expect 
great and enduring achievements. The great artist is not he who 
is an expert at composing fugues or drawing hands or feet, but 
he in whom truth grows and ripens, in whom a jealous eager 
feeling for genuineness in all things is ever at work" — an utterance 
that lends a colour to the view that Stassof, instead of restraining 
Mussorgsky, was forever goading him on. 

In August, he ceased to share rooms with Golenishchef-Kutuzof 
because, to his indignation, the poet was about to get married. A 
temporary break took place, but eventually Mussorgsky recon- 
ciled himself to the situation and resumed friendly relations with 
the couple. 

His next move was to take up quarters in the home of a friend 
of his, Paul Naumof. According to information collected by 
Andrei Rimsky-Korsakof, Naumof was a retired naval officer, 
married to a rich woman, Elizabeth Izmailovna {nee Kostiurina). 
Gay living was his sole object in life, and he used to describe 
himself as 'just a lout'. He was not a hard drinker, however; and 
there is no reason to suspect him of having encouraged Mussorgsky 
to intemperance. He was, in fact, very fond of him, and he 
cherished his memory in after years, carefully preserving various 
objects associated with him. 

By 1875, he was separated from his wife and living with his 
sister-in-law, Maria Izmailovna Fedorova. How Mussorgsky 
became the irregular couple's guest was told by Naumof to a niece 
of his: one night Mussorgsky, turned out of his home for non- 
payment of rent, went wandering penniless through the streets 
with a few possessions in a bag until he bethought himself of 
appealing to Naumof for hospitality. The story is confirmed by a 
passage of a letter from Liudmila Shestakova to Nikolsky, of 
23 June: "I am so sorry for Mussorgsky: he is being turned out 
of his flat, and his position is very bad." Still, it was only in 
August that he went to live in Naumof 's home; and according to 
a letter he wrote to Stassof, his reason for so doing was that 
Golenishchef-Kutuzof had gone away, taking the key of the flat 
with him. A likely explanation, Andrei Rimsky-Korsakof suggests, 
is that Mussorgsky lived a while alone in the rooms he had shared 
with Golenishchef-Kutuzof, was turned out in June, found a 



temporary shelter in the poet's new flat, and appealed to Naumof 
after the misadventure with the key. Anyhow, Mussorgsky 
certainly was in difficulties, and fortunate to find in Naumof a 
friend in need. He stayed with the family four years, being made 
welcome not only in their town flat but at their country house at 
Tsarskoe-Selo, near Petersburg, where he felt very happy as shown 
by a letter he wrote to Shestakova in August 1876: 

Yesterday evening Naumof and I took a long walk through lovely 
country. We were so thrilled that neither of us slept much afterwards. 
Silence around, broken only by the distant noise of a railwayman's 
horn or of a barking watchdog, or by rustles running through the leaves, 
like a glissando on a harp. Then, an invisible moon casting its gentle 
rays through the foliage straight upon my pillow. After the din and 
rush of town life, one cannot rest forthwith in the country: one feels 
fidgety, wondering why there is no noise, and what has happened to all 
the fuss and flurry. Gould I but obtain leave of absence, how well I 
should work here ! 

Maybe none of Mussorgsky's other friends would have been 
willing to find a place for him in their homes, but the kindly, 
cheerful, easy-going Naumof was probably not a man to worry 
over a few lapses; and Mussorgsky, by nature unfit for solitude, 
was more than ever in need of human companionship. In his 
fondness and gratitude he strove hard to persuade his old friends 
not to give his hosts the cold shoulder — writing to Stassof, for 
instance (on 25 December 1876): 

My good friends wish to visit the Public Library, and especially the 
section of which you are in charge. I take pride in writing down their 
names: Maria Izmailovna Fedorova (under whose hospitable roof 
Mussorianin is living), Paul Alexandrovitch Naumof, and his young 
son Serghei — in a word, the family which has been taking care of me, 
the sinner. For the reason that you, dear friend, in your glowing kind- 
ness and far-reaching wisdom, have never turned your back upon 
anybody, I pray you, if at all possible, to arrange an appointment for 
Monday, 27th. I want us to find you there: otherwise the library will 
be cold and altogether different. Drop me a line if it is all right. 

It is not recorded whether Stassof complied with this pathetically 
humble plea. But, naturally enough, no effort on Mussorgsky's 
part could have enabled Naumof and Maria Fedorova to be 
received in the society of his older friends — apart from the fact 


1874- i88i 

that the two Hved, or seemed to be Hving as man and wife, Maria 
Fedorova (about whom nothing more definite is known) had a 
bad reputation and was freely criticized. So much so that, as early 
as December 1875, Mussorgsky chivalrously took up the cudgels 
in her defence, composing a song which he entitled 'The Misunder- 
stood One'.* The words depict her, silent, proud, calm and con- 
temptuous, gazing upon the horde of puny backbiters ; it ends : 
"Be silent too, you shameless ones, and hear at last the blows of the 
hammer that strikes at your guilty consciences." The music — like 
the words, rather declamatory — is of no great interest. Mussorgsky 
inscribed the song to his hostess, giving her not her married, but 
her original name, Maria Izmailovna Kostiurina, and adding 
the words "the lady by the Christmas tree". He took no steps to 
have it published or publicly performed. It appeared in 191 1 only. 

So it was after settling in his new home that Mussorgsky 
finished, in September 1875, the first act of Khovanshchina. On 
30 December he triumphantly announced to Stassof that the 
second act was finished : two days later, that he was starting on the 
third; and on 3 January 1875, that a good part of the third act was 
ready to be shown, and that he intended to reach the middle of it 
that very day. He must have been very fit to be able to work at 
such speed. 

In March and April, he was busily engaged in helping Liudmila 
Shestakova to organize the celebration of Petrof's jubilee — the 
fiftieth anniversary of the great singer's first appearance on the 
stage (at the age of nineteen, at Elizabethgrad, in an operetta 
entitled The Cossack Poet). The celebration took place on 24 April, 
when a gala performance of Glinka's A Life for the Tsar, in which 
Petrof had created the part of Ivan Sussanin in 1836, was given 
at the Marinsky Theatre, and Mussorgsky heartily rejoiced in the 

In May he held out the olive branch to Rimsky-Korsakof (with 
whom, obviously, he must have had a quarrel which is not men- 
tioned in Rimsky-Korsakof's Memoirs or in any other source of 
information) writing to him a thoroughly characteristic letter: 

Friend Nikolai Andreivitch, I shall call on you on Monday at 8 p.m. 

We must meet — a fig for that tiff* of ours! It cheers me up to think that 

you are preparing to give Russia's songs to the Russians and to the world 

* The titles given, in the Bessel edition, to both the French translation (for which 
the author of this book is responsible) and the English, are misleading: the French 
title ought to be 'L'Incomprise'. 


at large — a sacred undertaking that will make history. There is a 
danger of these songs getting lost: so when one thinks that a gifted 
Russian is about to rescue them one can but rejoice and feel at rest. 
I embrace you, friend. 

The reference is to the book of Russian folk-songs which Rimsky- 
Korsakof was engaged in compiling, and in which he included 
songs communicated by Mussorgsky, including the Riabinin song 
used in Boris and the one whose tune was used for Marfa's love 
song in Khovanshchina. 

The spurt of industry soon came to an end, probably owing to 
the difficulties he encountered with Khovanshchina (for which 
Stassof was offering suggestions that did not always simplify 
matters) and also to the fact that after Petrof's jubilee his thoughts 
had turned again to The Sorotchintsi Fair. His increasingly vacil- 
lating and visionary frame of mind is reflected in a letter to 
Stassof of 1 5 June : 

You have been angry with Mussorianin — maybe unjustly, but 
Mussorianin affectionately defers. He has been working ... it is only 
in order to be able to work that he requires peace. Khovanshchina is too 
big, too exceptional a task. You surely do not suspect me of having 
taken your remarks and suggestions in a non-Mussorianin spirit? . . . 
I have stopped work. I have been thinking things over for quite a 
while and shall continue to do so, concentrating upon the one thought 
of carrying the day and speaking to the people a new message of 
friendship and love, a sincere message that will traverse the whole 
breadth of the Russian land, the truth-proclaiming message of a 
humble musician, but one who is a fighter for the true conception of 
art. Your new suggestion is most promising. I must work out the idea. 
Thanks to you, we have understood Marfa at last, and we shall make 
that Russian woman immaculate. 

P.S. I have been practising the piano a lot, and am beginning to 
believe that if need arose, I could earn my daily bread by pawing 
the ivories. 

This postscript unavoidably suggests that he no longer felt 
altogether secure in his office job. 

In July he resumed work on both The Fair and Khovanshchina. 
He composed (Stassof told Golenishchef-Kutuzof ) a good deal of 
fine music that summer. Throughout the year he worked hope- 
fully and sedulously enough, although feeling at times very weary. 
In October the Marinsky Theatre started giving Boris Godunof 



in an appallingly abridged form: the coronation, the inn, the 
scene in the Tsar's apartments, the Polish act, and the Duma and 
the Tsar's death. Stassof protested energetically in the Press; of 
Mussorgsky's feelings there is no record whatever (but see supra, 
p. 163). Maybe, as in 1873, he was so wrapt in his dreams of 
Khovanshchina that the fate of Boris at the moment did not affect 
him much: but Rimsky-Korsakof's assertion that the mauling of 
his masterpiece contributed to depress him should not be over- 

Very little information is available as to the happenings of 
1877. ^^ March he composed five songs to texts by Alexei Tolstoi 
and another to a poem by Golenishchef-Kutuzof entitled 'Vision'. 
None of these is of great interest. The fourth and last of the Songs 
and Dances of Death was finished in June at Tsarskoe-Selo. There, 
too, he finished in July Joshua a very fine choral scene with soli 
and piano accompaniment, which was a remodelled and amplified 
version, planned and partly carried out in 1874, of a chorus of 
Libyan warriors in Salammbo. Dimitri Stassof vainly tried to help 
Mussorgsky find a publisher for Joshua and the Songs and Dances 
of Death. They appeared only after his death. In April, he noted 
down a couple of Eastern folk- tunes for the last opera Pugatchevsh- 
china. He intended to start work on this after finishing Khovansh- 
china. The subject was to be taken from Pushkin's tale The Captain'' s 
Daughter with the addition, Stassof says, of many other elements. 

His friends were out of touch with him from June to September. 
"I have heard nothing of him", Stassof wrote to Golenishchef- 
Kutuzof on 31 July, "except that he has composed and actually 
written out a fine Khivria scene"; and on 22 August: "I have 
absolutely no news of him". 

The manuscript of the Khivria scene and air (for The Sorotchintsi 
Fair) bears the date 10 July 1877, and is inscribed to Alexandra 
Molas. It is the only thing he composed that year after having 
finished Joshua. 

At the beginning of the autumn he reappeared in town. 
Stassof informed Golenishchef-Kutuzof that "he had turned out a 
lot of rubbish for The Fair during the summer, but had now 
decided to scrap it all, and had since composed two gipsy 
choruses" (letter of 7 November). Stassof and he spent every 
Tuesday evening at the house of the Molas family. Alexandra 
Molas in her recollections says that Mussorgsky generally came 
several times a week to dinner and stayed the whole evening: 



"After dinner he would have a nap in an easy chair, and after- 
wards sit at the piano and extemporize. My children loved him: 
as soon as they saw him, they would shout 'Mussorianin is here: 
hurrah!' He was ever saying that in our home he found relief 
and could forget a while his difficulties and burdens." 

The horizon was dark indeed for him. Before the end of the 
winter the death of his beloved Petrof threw him into black 
despair. But by that time he had already deteriorated appre- 
ciably, judging by this sentence in a letter from Stassof to Golenish- 
chef-Kutuzof: "On the day of Petrof 's death, Mussorgsky came 
to Liudmila Shestakova's house, looking almost like a normal 
human being." 

Of the way in which he bore the blow there is but a single 
record — a very touching one — from Kompaneisky's pen : 

Mussorgsky's face after death, with its tightened lips, bore the 
expression he used to wear when lost in thought. Gazing upon it, I 
remembered the day, three years earlier, when he and I were sitting 
by Petrof 's grave, and he spoke in hushed tones of his unbearable grief 
and its unavoidable consequences. He was sobbing bitterly, spas- 
modically, as only children are wont to sob. " With his death every- 
thing is lost for me", he said. "I have lost the support of my bitter life. 
Of late years, I felt that his home was my home. He fed me with 
artistic truth and inspired me to create." 

From that moment on his downfall was rapid. Many records 
of distressing episodes of that period and the following are 
available.^ A letter which Shestakova wrote to Stassof on 9 
August runs: 

Let us now talk of a man who stands very close to you — of Mussorgsky. 
I have long refrained from mentioning him to you, for fear of the 
distress I might cause you. Last week he appeared at my house in an 
appalling condition. He stayed quite a long while. Seeing that things 
were getting worse, I felt I had to do something. In order to spare him 
whilst protecting myself, I wrote him a letter, asking him not to call on 
me when suffering from what he calls his nervous disorder. Of course I 
put it as gently as I could. Yesterday, my dear Mussinka appeared, 
perfectly correct, and gave me his word never to distress me again. 
We shall see how things go. But for some time, at least, I think he will 
keep himself in hand. I am sorry for him indeed: he has so much in 
him that is good ! If it were possible to detach him from Naumof, I 
think he might be rescued. 


1874- i88i 

Anxious letters passed between Stassof and Balakiref. "Mussorg- 
sky is going to the dogs", the former wrote; and the latter 
expressed his conviction that the situation was hopeless: "He is 
such a physical wreck that he can hardly cease to be the corpse he 
is at present". As early as April, Stassof had applied to Terty 
Filippof, who was the Director of the Government Control 
Department, asking him to secure for Mussorgsky a transfer to 
this department. Filippof, a friend of Balakiref, a folk-song 
enthusiast, and a great admirer of Mussorgsky's genius, proved 
willing. No doubt Balakiref, who after the renewal of friendly 
relations which had just taken place (see infra), was thoroughly 
well disposed towards his quondam pupil, pleaded with Filippof, 
too. The transfer took place on i October. 

According to the recollections of Nikolai Lavrof (1854?- 192 7; 
a pianist and professor at the Leningrad Conservatoire, who in 
1879-80 used to meet Mussorgsky at the Petersburg Musical and 
Dramatic Amateur Circle), Filippof was "indulgent to the point 
of unfairness, forgiving him for doing no work and often arriving 
at the office in a state of intoxication. Admitting that his leniency 
was excessive, he explained it by saying: 'I am the servant of the 
artists'. All Mussorgsky did at the office was to collect his salary 
on the 20th of each month." 

In November he fell seriously ill. An illiterate scrawl from some 
unknown hand reached Balakiref informing him that "Modest 
Petrovitch Mussorgsky had had a stroke and was at present at 
Daria Mikhailovna Leonova's flat, Kokushkin Bridge, 70". 
By 24 November he was well enough to write a short note to 
Shestakova; on 10 December he attended at the Marinsky 
Theatre the twentieth performance of Boris Godunof and had to 
take several calls. 

Except for a small amount of work on Khovanshchina in July and 
August, and the setting of a poem by Pleshcheef, 'The Wanderer', 
the year was a blank so far as composition was concerned. 

The ups and downs during this last period of his life are difficult 
to follow step by step. Periods of comparatively good health and 
cheerfulness alternated with periods of depression and incapacity 
in quick and, at times, surprisingly sudden succession. For instance, 
the pleasant meeting with Balakiref already referred to took place 
a very few days before Mussorgsky's visits to Shestakova "in an 
appalling condition". And Balakiref was very favourably im- 
pressed; he wrote to Stassof (28 July) : " I was pleasantly surprised 



to find no trace in him of his former self-complacency and vain- 
glory. He was, on the contrary, quite humble, listening carefully 
and not uttering a word of protest when told it was imperative 
to know harmony, nor objecting to the idea of working at it with 
Rimsky-Korsakof. ' ' 

Whether this meekness should be ascribed to lowered vitality 
or to the joy of resuming friendly relations with Balakiref is an 
open question. But Mussorgsky's own account to Stassof of the 
meeting was : "I am enraptured. Many fine things were mentioned, 
many fine things examined, and above all the grand memory of 
our past artistic doings was evoked — so far, this is all I can truth- 
fully tell you." It seems to show that he found the meeting 
stimulating. The last sentence is cryptic, but may refer to the fact 
that Balakiref had persuaded Mussorgsky to remodel his Night 
on the Bare Mountain. A day or two after that meeting, Mussorgsky 
wrote to Shestakova that he had been laid up with new fever, 
but was recovering speedily enough to call upon her on the 28th 
to talk of many things connected with the memory of Petrof. 

The opportunity to take up harmony with Rimsky-Korsakof 
never came, and maybe Mussorgsky did not give a second thought 
to the idea. A remodelling of the Night on the Bare Mountain took 
place in 1880, but not on the lines suggested by Balakiref (see 
chapter V supra). 

A period of activity must have followed close upon Mussorgsky's 
recovery (in December) : for in January 1879 it was announced in 
the Press — very prematurely — that he would shortly submit his 
new opera Khovanshchina to the committee of the Imperial Theatres. 
And that year a variety of events contributed to fan the hopes that 
were ever glowing in his heart. On 16 January the scene in the 
cell, from Boris Godunof, which had never been included in the 
stage performance, was heard for the first time at a concert of the 
Free School of Music, Rimsky-Korsakof conducting. The last of 
Rimsky-Korsakof's uncharitably worded recollections of him 
refers to this event. "At the rehearsals he behaved extravagantly, 
as he often did when under the influence of wine, or wished to 
pose. He listened with a great show of attention, now bowing his 
head, now haughtily raising it and shaking his hair, now 
theatrically throwing up his arm — always a favourite gesture of his. 
When, at the end, the tam-tam was struck pianissimo, in imitation 
of the monastery bell, he made the player a deep respectful 
obeisance, arms crossed on his breast." 


1874- i88i 

According to the one available notice of the concert,* the 
scene created a favourable impression, despite the "endless 
recitative" and the not very satisfactory reading given by the 
singers, V. I. and V. V. VassiHef 

In March, Marfa's song from Khovanshchina and 'Forgotten' 
were given for the first time, the former by Leonova at her concert, 
the latter by B. Korsof at a concert given by another singer, 
Krutikova. And in the late spring, Leonova came forth with the 
plan for a great concert tour through central and south Russia 
for Mussorgsky and herself 

Mussorgsky was delighted, but his friends disapproved of the 
scheme, Filippof alone regarding it as excellent. Vladimir Stassof 
wrote to Balakiref that "Mussorgsky expected great things from 
the tour, and about 1,000 roubles profit (!!!) — but failed to 
realize that he was preparing to shame himself and his friends." 
Balakiref thoroughly agreed: "It is horrible", he wrote to 
Shestakova. "If you could but dissuade him, you would rescue 
him from the shameful part he is about to assume. Moreover, 
both he and Leonova are taking^'a big^risk. Should he suddenly 
have a haemorrhage as happened once at your house, what then ? 
He'll probably die: for she will not fail to give him drink." Later 
he was to write: "Glory and honour to Leonova! She must be 
large-hearted indeed to be able so disinterestedly to take charge 
of a man such as Modest Petrovitch when there is no hope 
whatever of his pulling through" (to Stassof, 14 February 1881). 

This was an unduly censorious attitude to take. Daria 
Mikhailovna Leonova, at that time fifty years of age, had had a 
successful career on the Imperial stage until 1873, and made in 
1875 a brilliantly successful tour through Siberia, the Far East, 
and North America. She was past her prime as a singer, but still 
popular with the public. She had a fine, sonorous voice of great 
compass, which had won Glinka's and Dargomyjsky's approval, 
and, abroad, Meyerbeer's and Auber's. She used it, maybe, with 
more spirit than style, but effectively enough; her singing was 
often rather gipsy-like. She was a confirmed believer in 
Mussorgsky's music ever since she had sung, in 1868, his 'Hopak', 
which he had orchestrated specially for the occasion; and 
especially after having appeared as the innkeeper at the first 
performance of excerpts from Boris Godunof in 1873. And she was 
a kind-hearted woman, genuinely eager to do him a good turn, 

* Sunday Music and Information Journal, quoted in Mussorgsky : Letters and Documents. 


while serving her own interests by having him by her side. Later, 
she was to stand by him in his hour of distress. 

The Balakiref-Stassof group did not think much of her, regarding 
her as a poor musician and intolerable boaster. Maybe one of the 
drawbacks they foresaw on this particular occasion was that the 
manager of the tour was to be her husband (or reputed husband) 
Feodor Gridnin, a journalist and editor of doubtful reputation. 

Anyhow, these well-meaning, maybe a trifle touchy friends, so 
ready to talk of disgrace, seem not to have sufficiently weighed 
the circumstances of the case, which Andrei Rimsky- Korsakoff'' 
judiciously sets forth as follows : 

The tour was desirable, first and foremost, owing to Mussorgsky's 
difficulties. His new appointment was doomed to terminate soon, for 
his health, physical and mental, was too seriously undermined for him 
to be able to carry on with his duties. The change, too, was bound to 
have a beneficial effect on him. In fact, his reactions to the impressions 
of natural scenery, to the new surroundings, to the events of the journey 
were very strong — ^which is hardly astonishing when one thinks of the 
lamentable conditions of his life in Petersburg, of the burden of his 
office work, and the other circumstances that drove him more and 
more towards drink. The tone of the letters he wrote from the places 
he visited, especially during the early part of the journey, reveals an 
almost morbidly heightened excitability. 

The letters also show him ingenuously and whole-heartedly 
enjoying the experiences the journey provided; and there is no 
indication that during the three months or so taken up by the 
tour, he ever yielded to his failing. Instead, he must have had a 
remarkable capacity for recuperation, so often did he succeed in 
mastering for a while his craving for alcohol and shaking ofif its 
effects. But there can be no doubt as to the seriousness of the evil. 
Godet said in En marge de Boris Godunof that "the question arises 
whether Mussorgsky's friends did not tamper with his biography 
as they [sic] tampered with his music". This, let it be repeated, 
amounts to suggesting that practically everybody around him 
conspired to provide false evidence even in private communica- 
tions never intended for publication. And, besides the documents 
already quoted here, and others that will be quoted further, there 
are testimonies^ from Dr. Vassili Bertenson, the composer 
Ippolitof-Ivanof, the philosopher and writer on music Lapshin, 
the author Stakheef, Lavrof, and others that positively show 
Godet's suspicions to be untenable, and most unfair. 


i874- 1881 

The material advantages of the tour did not come up to 
Mussorgsky's expectations; but from the artistic point of view, 
resuhs were most encouraging for him. Besides acting as Leonova's 
accompanist, he appeared as a soloist, playing no music originally 
composed for piano except his own 'Intermezzo' and a few minor 
pieces (nothing from the Pictures from an Exhibition) but a good 
many arrangements of other compositions of his — including the 
choral Joshua — or of Glinka's. The numbers were provided with 
impressively explanatory titles; for instance: 'The triumphal 
procession of Tsar Boris to the chimes of big bells and acclamation 
of the people, a musical picture from the opera Boris Godunof ; 
'Evening ramble of the guests in the gardens of the Sandomir 
Voyevod Mnishek, a Polish musical picture from the opera Boris 
Godunop \ 'The glorification of Tchernobog and the witches' 
sabbath on the Bare Mountain (the vision of the weary goatherd), 
a musical picture from the new comic opera Sorotchintsi Fair'' \ 
'Prince Golitsyn leaving Moscow on his way to exile in Bieloozero, 
a musical picture from the new opera Khovanshchina,^ and so on. 

The programmes included songs and vocal excerpts from operas 
by Mussorgsky, Glinka, Dargomyjsky, Serof, Balakiref, Rubinstein, 
Pashchenko, Qui, Rimsky-Korsakof, Borodin, Schubert, Schu- 
mann, Meyerbeer, Liszt, Gounod; Russian folk-songs; and 
drawing-room songs, one or two of which were by Leonova 
herself. All told, the repertory justified Mussorgsky's feeling that 
he was helping to propagate the best of Russian music among 
"the good people of Russia". 

A few passages from the letters — long, but not many in number 
— in which the events of the tour are recorded should suffice to 
give an idea of his "heightened excitability" and also his happiness. 

To the Naumofs, Poltava, 30 July : 

The takings were good, though below expectations. The artistic triumph 
is irrevocable. We were fortunate in being received in the splendid 
homes of the Miloradovitch, Mossolof and Schroder families. Daria 
Mikhailovna was, is, and ever will be peerless. What a wonderful 
creature ! Energy, power, depth of feeling, everything in her attracts 
and binds one to her. The audiences were moved to tears and deeply 
thrilled. We were smothered with flowers — splendid flowers. At the 
Miloradovitch estate near Poltava we were enchanted with the beauty 
of everything, and especially with our charming hostess, a most cultured, 
warm-hearted woman, European to her finger-tips, self-possessed, 
elegant and wise. 



The air is so sweet here that it brings peace of heart and obHvion 
of all evil. The chief loveliness of Poltava lies in the pyramid-shaped 
poplar trees that like giant sentries keep watch over houses, hills and 
valleys. In the soft moonlight, which is reflected on the white cottages 
and shimmers in the air all vert de lumiere, they loom almost black. The 
whole picture is entrancing. 

To the same, Nikolaief, 3 August: 

To-day we called on the governor. We were received charmingly. 
He is a man of great wisdom and sensitiveness, and a keen art-lover. 
We also called upon the admirals — one and all fine fellows, likeable, 
thoroughly sympathetic. There have been additions to our repertory : 
Liszt's 'King of Thule', Borodin's 'The Sea', a romance-mazurka by 
Chopin. And there will be many more: Leonova treasures in her 
artist heart all these desirable guests. 

To the same, Kherson, 15 August: 

To-day we give our first concert here. It will pave the way for further 
musical excursions. On the road I shall get hold of new, important 
musical ideas, and Daria Mikhailovna will present the resulting com- 
positions. Our artistic success so far has been invariable. Surely our 
undertaking will prove, and indeed is already proving, a great service 
in the realm of art to the good Russian people. And how wonderful the 
journey to Kherson on the Dnieper! Joy of joys! Through the long 
avenues of rushes, famous in history (some of them twelve to eighteen 
feet high) out of which, of old, the sturdy Zaporogs in their dug-outs 
used to rush upon the boats of the invading Turks, the calm waters 
shone so blue, reflecting the tall trees whose image extended right to 
the middle of the stream, in the rosy and lavender light of setting sun, 
moon and Jupiter. 

Talking of Jupiter, the Director of the Nikolaief Observatory kindly 
allowed us to observe, through the big telescope, Jupiter and Saturn. 
I nearly went mad with joy. 

To Vladimir Stassof, Yalta, 10 September: 

In Petersburg too little is known of conditions in the provinces. So, 
for your information: the Russian towns that painters and musicians 
are in the habit of visiting have little use for music or for any art 
(Odessa, Nikolaief, Sebastopol) ; on the contrary those towns which 
they never or hardly ever visit are very musical and love art (Elizavet- 
grad, Kherson, Poltava). 

At Poltava Khovanshchina created a great impression. The final scene, 


1874- i88i 

admirably sung by Leonova, overwhelmed the audience. The Soro- 
tchintsi Fair was received with favour everywhere in the Ukraine, every- 
body assuring me that the music was thoroughly national in character. 
I myself was able to ascertain as much, being on the spot. 

At Nikolaief, in the home of the charming Yurkovskys, Leonova and 
I introduced my Nursery to the children. They were delighted, and the 
nurses too. The same thing happened at Kherson in the home of the 
Boshniak family. O Laroche! O Solovief! O Laroche and Solovief 
and Ivanof, with Gaiter thrown in! [the Petersburg critics who dis- 
approved of Mussorgsky's music] . 

On the boat that carried us to Sebastopol I wrote down a Greek and 
a Jewish song. I joined in the singing of the latter. All the singers were 
delighted, and dubbed me a master. At Odessa, I attended two 
synagogue services, and found them beautiful. 

A letter to Shestakova, of 9 September, shows Mussorgsky 
under all those influences, lost again in dreams of wonderful 

How much that is new, enchanting, rejuvenating does not nature give 
us! How revealing (at times essentially so) it is to meet new people, 
whose feeling for art is far greater than that of certain unappreciated 
trumpeters in our all-Russian Press. My present experiences are a 
great lesson to me. Years have fallen from my shoulders, life is calling 
me to new musical tasks, to grand musical doings. Farther, farther 
ahead along the auspicious road ! What I have done so far is not com- 
prehended. So, onward, eagerly towards the new shores of an unex- 
plored art. To seek those shores, tirelessly, fearlessly, serenely, and then 
to stand firm on the soil of the promised land, there is a grand, a 
fascinating duty! 

At that time, one of Vladimir Stassof's daughters, Sophia 
Fortunato, was running the Hotel Russia in Yalta. Her recol- 
lections of Mussorgsky's visit to that city are the one and only 
independent account we have of any part of the tour : 

I was unable to procure Mussorgsky's address, and so did not get into 
touch with him before the first concert. Arriving at the Club Hall 
where the concert was taking place, to my distress I saw a very small 
audience, although Yalta was crowded with visitors at the time. At 
the first interval, I went round to the artists' room. Mussorgsky was 
sitting in an easy chair, arms hanging limply, like a wounded bird. 
The failure of the concert, the sight of the nearly empty hall had 
affected him deeply. I learnt that he and Leonova had arrived late 



the previous evening, and, unable to find proper accommodation, had 
spent the night in an uncomfortable, dirty house. I arranged for them 
to come, the next day, to my hotel, where there was a big sitting-room 
with a grand piano. There were many visitors there, whom we per- 
suaded to attend the second concert. He and Leonova stayed with us 
a week or so. They often delighted us with their music. Needless to say 
how deeply impressed all the listeners were — young and old, and even 
those who had never, or hardly ever, heard any music. We made 
several expeditions into the country. He was deeply moved by the 
beauty of the landscape, the sea, the mountains, the lovely moonlight 
nights, and the sweetness of the air. He usually climbed into the back 
seat of the carriage, so as not to be distracted from his enjoyment by 

It is natural to surmise that elsewhere, too, a good deal must 
have happened that was disappointing or trying in some way or 
other. But not a word to that effect appears in Mussorgsky's 
letters: owing either to his inborn disposition or to a sense of 
loyalty to the undertaking, he seems to have seen the bright side 
only. Mentally, he was living in a world of illusion; nothing could 
be further from the 'promised land' towards which he felt himself 
drawn than the small amount of music he turned out during the 
tour — 'Baidary' and 'Gurzuf for piano, two indifferent little 
pieces suggested by impressions of the Crimea, and 'The Song of 
the Flea' from Goethe's Faust, an effective but not in the least 
imaginative setting. A third, more important piano piece, 'Storm 
on the Black Sea' was composed and often played by him during 
the tour and after, but never written down. It was found dis- 
appointing by all who heard it, despite his brilliant interpretation 

The last concerts took place at Voronej (4 and 7 October) and 
Tambof (14 October); and after some three months' absence, 
Mussorgsky returned to Petersburg where, a little later (27 
November) excerpts from Khovanshchina were given at a Free 
School of Music concert, Rimsky-Korsakof conducting. These 
were the chorus of the Streltsy from the third act, Marfa's song, 
and the Persian dances — the first two in Mussorgsky's scoring, the 
third in Rimsky-Korsakof's. "He had promised to deliver the 
full score, but delayed so long that I offered to do the scoring for 
him. He agreed forthwith, and was delighted with my work, 
although I had rectified here and there his harmonies and part- 


1874- i88i 

Meanwhile, his prospects were growing gloomier. The time 
was nearino: when his work with the Commission of Government 
Control would come to an end (31 December, 1879) and he would 
be left without resources. But a kind of mystic faith sustained him, 
as shown by a letter he wrote, on 19 December to Shestakova: 

My very dear Liudmila Ivanovna, 

By your kind words and your frank utterances to me who am 
grappling with the problem of earning my daily bread, you have 
hallowed me as both man and artist. Indeed, had I been so reckless as 
to break faith, to give in, to play ducks and drakes with art and with 
myself, I should have found no single word of excuse within my 
conscience. But you found the right words, and thus hallowed me. In 
the same way as you saved Glinka's works in all their purity and radiance 
for the world to enjoy [a reference to her editorial and propaganda 
work] so did you find, in the greatness of your heart, the kind words and 
frank advice I needed. 

Meanwhile, his friends were striving their utmost to find ways of 
helping him. A group of them, including Filippof, Jemtchujnikof, 
the poet, a certain Neronof, and others whose names are not 
recorded, clubbed together to make him a monthly allowance of 
1 00 roubles in order to enable him to finish Khovanshchina in peace. 
It was probably in reply to a letter informing him of this arrange- 
ment that he wrote to Vladimir Stassof, on 16 January 1880: 

Many thanks, dear Generalissime, for the good news. Despite a few 
misfortunes, I am not losing and shall never lose heart. My motto, 
which you know: "Onwards, boldly, towards new shores!" remains 
unchanged. If fate enables me to widen the beaten track that leads 
to the vital goal of art, I shall rejoice and triumph. The demands that 
art makes upon the artist of to-day are so tremendous that they may 
well engulf him whole. Past is the time when one could work at 
leisure : now one must give oneself up wholly to the people. 

So he took up Khovanshchina' difresh.; and in order to simplify the 
task of finishing it "curtailed it drastically, suppressing whole 
episodes and loosely stringing the remainder together". ^^ But he 
soon lost interest in the work. On 1 7 February, Stassof wrote to 
Balakiref: "Apparently another group has been formed to make 
Mussorgsky an allowance of eighty roubles a month on the under- 
standing that he will finish The Sorotchintsi Fair within a year or so. 
This is why he is so unwilling to carry on with Khovanshchina J ^ 



A little later he again changed his mind and, from that moment 
on, was enmeshed in the impossible task of finishing both operas 

Leonova, at an orchestral concert she gave on 8 April, sang an 
excerpt from the final scene of Khovanshchina. Another excerpt 
was included in the programme of one or two concerts she gave at 
Tver, a few days later, Mussorgsky co-operating. She invited him 
to spend the summer at her country house at Oranienbaum. 
There he finished the third act oi Khovanshchina (manuscript dated 
29 May) and composed portions of the fourth and fifth acts 
(August) . 

Three brief letters to Stassof — the last ones he wrote, except 
for a business note to Rimsky-Korsakof, in December — give the 
following particulars: 

5 August 
One more little bit of the collective suicide by fire, and Khovanshchina 
will be finished. I shall tell you about The Sorotchintsi Fair shortly. I've 
done a good deal of it. Tchernobog is quite ready. I have planned a 
suite for orchestra with harps and piano, on motives obtained from 
various good pilgrims of this world. The programme will be : from the 
Bulgarian shores through the Black Sea, the Caucasus, the Caspian 
and Fergan to Birma. A little of it is already composed. 
Writing tires my hand terribly. 

22 August 
Our Khovanshchina is finished, except for one small bit of the final 
suicide scene. This we shall have to talk over together, as it is all a 
matter of stage technique. I have shown Filippof (having recovered 
my voice) the act with Ivan Khovansky's death. He was pleased with 
it. But please tell me what I am to do with my devils in The Fair. What 
are they to be like ? What kind of a vision can a drunken goatherd have 
in his dream? I implore your help. The Tchernobog scene will be 
grand, but . . . but the stage spectacle will have to be on new, live lines. 
I hate the idea of having anything trite or second-rate. So, help me ! 

27/28 August 
Concerning Mussorianin the sinner, all I can say is that this very 
second, at night, he has finished the clear draft of the market scene in 
The Fair. Khovanshchina is practically finished. But the scoring . . . 
O ye gods! . . . time! . . . 

Yet, maybe, Mussorianin will remain true to his unvarying motto: 
when a new, unexplored path opens, is he to pull up ? Never ! Onwards ! 

These letters show that he was living, to a great extent, in a 



land of illusion. He had every reason to be pleased with the 
Tchernobog scene, a very effective choral version of his Night on 
the Bare Mountain — or rather of the rearrangement he had made 
of it in 1872 for inclusion in Mlada. But the fifth act of Khovansh- 
china was still in a sketchy, shapeless form. Of the orchestral suite 
he mentioned not a trace has been discovered. 

He was in a very poor condition. According to recollections 
communicated to Lapshin by S. Rojdestvensky, a professor at the 
Petersburg University, who that same summer was a guest at 
Leonova's house, "his appearance was exactly that which Repin's 
famous portrait of him shows [see infra^ p. 207]. He was shabbily 
dressed, and more than once second-hand clothes had to be 
purchased for him. He often suffered from hallucinations. He was 
still capable of playing, and occasionally of singing, brilliantly".^^ 

In the course of the summer Leonova discussed with him the 
idea of jointly organizing a school of singing. The notion attracted 
him, she says in her recollections. It seemed to him that he would 
be enabled to earn some money, of which he stood in great need. 
But "at first, we had but a small number of pupils. This distressed 
him, but we decided to work hard in order to attract others. We 
devised new methods of tuition. For instance, when we had to give 
lessons to two, three or four pupils, he would compose solfeggios 
in duet, trio or quartet form. This proved very useful. And soon our 
school was well spoken of. But, alas, before the end of our first 
year's work, death claimed him." 

Rimsky-Korsakof in his Memoirs devotes a paragraph or two 
to the undertaking, saying that Mussorgsky's participation was a 
valuable advertisement for Leonova: "She stood in need of an 
accompanist and musician capable of helping her pupils to learn 
their songs correctly and of teaching elementary theory. He 
devoted a good deal of his time to the school, and would turn out 
trios and quartets with atrocious part-writing. His duties were 
unenviable, but he remained — or tried to remain — unconscious 
of the fact." 

These remarks might convey the impression that the arrange- 
ment was one-sided. But, in point of fact, it seems that he needed 
Leonova as much as she needed him, if only for the reason that 
no other of his friends seems to have been in close touch with him 
during these last months of his struggles and downfall. That he 
should have stood in need of the small sums he earned by his 
work at the school suggests that he must have been spending a 



good deal on drink; for, under normal conditions, he could have 
managed reasonably well on his monthly allowances. Every one 
around him must have felt thoroughly discouraged; and in all 
Hkelihood, a sense of shame may have led him to keep away from 
his friends most of the time. But his duties kept him in daily touch 
with Leonova, and she stood by him to the last, showing great 
kindness and understanding. 

The autumn and early winter months were uneventful. On 
II October, the rearrangement he had made of a March in 
Mlada to commemorate the taking of Kars was performed at a 
Russian Music Society concert. On 3 February 1881 Rimsky- 
Korsakof conducted a performance of The Destruction of Sen- 
nacherib at a Free School of Music concert. Mussorgsky attended, 
and was cheered. A day or two later, a memorial meeting in 
honour of Dostoevsky (who had died on 28 January) took place 
at a literary club. When the great writer's portrait was exhibited, 
draped in crape, Mussorgsky sat at the piano and extemporized 
funeral music "not dissimilar to that of the death scene in Boris 

There is no indication of his having composed, or even thought 
of composing, anything else during all that period. 

The final collapse came suddenly on 10 February. Leonova 
describes it thus: 

One day he came to me in a frightful state of nerves, and told me that 
he was at the end of his tether, and that nothing remained for him but 
to go and beg in the streets. I did my utmost to soothe him, telling him 
that I was willing to share with him what little I had. This calmed 
him a little. That same evening we had to attend a party at General 
Sokalsky's house ; his daughter, a pupil of ours, was to sing for the first 
time before a big audience. After the music was over, the guests started 
dancing and I joined in a card game. All of a sudden, Sokalsky's son 
came to me and asked whether Mussorgsky was subject to fits. He had 
had a stroke. A doctor who happened to be present looked after him; 
and when the moment came for us to leave, he seemed quite normal 
again. I took him to my flat, and he implored me to allow him to spend 
the night there, as he was feeling very shaky. I gave him a small room 
and told my servant to keep watch over him all night, and to call me 
at once if need arose. All night he slept in an arm-chair. In the morning 
he came to breakfast looking quite happy. He thanked me and said he 
was feeling quite well. But, as he spoke, he made a half-turn to the right 
and suddenly fell to the floor. Two other similar fits occurred in the 
course of the day. In the evening I called all his friends, beginning with 



Vladimir Stassof and Filippof. It was decided that he would be better 
cared for in hospital. For a long while he objected, but at last he was 
persuaded to agree. 

Dr. Lev Bertenson, to whom his friends applied for help, 
arranged for him to be admitted to the Nikolaevsky Military 
Hospital, of which he was a resident physician. The hospital 
being for officers and soldiers only, he had to be registered as 
"voluntary orderly to the resident physician Bertenson". Thanks 
to the assistance of the physician-in-chief he was given. Dr. 
Bertenson says,* comfortable and cheery quarters. Two Sisters of 
Mercy, an assistant surgeon and the regular staff looked after him. 
On 16 February Vladimir Stassof wrote to Balakiref: "Now the 
doctors say that he was laid down not by a stroke, but by the 
beginning of epilepsy. I saw him yesterday and to-day. He looks 
all right and recognizes everybody, but he talks a lot of nonsense. 
They say he shows symptoms of insanity. According to the 
doctors he is done for. He may live another year or die at any 

By the beginning of March, his condition had improved a 
little. Many of his friends used to visit him daily. Repin began, 
on 2 March, to paint his famous portrait of him* — a terrible 
testimony of the ravages of alcohol and illness. He finished it on 
5 March. Kompaneisky relates that a few days before his death 
Mussorgsky was hopeful and buoyant: "His eyes were shining 
bright, and he said to me : 'All is well now. I am cured, and shall 
soon be able to resume work'." 

Likewise Golenishchef-Kutuzof: "Three days before the end 
came, Mussorgsky was looking forward to a complete recovery. 
He spoke of his longing to start on a new big work. 'And, you 
know', he said to me, 'it will have to be something entirely new, 
never touched before: and not historical or in any way prosaic. 
So far we have only done small things together. Let us do better : 
you write a fantastic drama and I shall set it to music without 
changing a single word of the text — exactly as Dargomyjsky did 
with Pushkin's Stone Guest. But look here; not a word of this to 
anybody, let it remain a secret.' " 

The obituary by Ivanof in the Novoe Vremya describes his end 

His last two days were a protracted agony. Paralysis of the arms and 
legs set in. He breathed with difficulty. His mind remained clear to the 
* See frontispiece. 



end. On the Saturday, his condition was hopeless but he refused to 
beheve that the end was near. He insisted on being given the news- 
papers to read, and his friends took great pains to hide from him the 
paragraphs referring to his illness. They succeeded in making him 
sign a power of attorney for Filippof to deal with his works and 
possessions, without his realizing the dread significance of the act. 
The next morning, feeling a little better, he rejoiced and started 
dreaming of journeys to the Crimea and Constantinople (his friends 
had already subscribed money for the purpose), and merrily re- 
counting anecdotes of his life. He insisted on being put in an arm-chair 
"so as to look nice, because his daily visitors included ladies". His 
condition remained stationary throughout the day and night, but he 
died at five o'clock in the morning on the Monday, i6 March. Two 
assistant surgeons who were present reported that he suddenly gave 
two loud cries and expired a quarter of an hour later. 

Alexandra Molas in her recollections^ says that a female nurse 
was present too, and heard him cry out: "All is over! Woe is me!" 

The immediate cause of his death was given as erysipelous 
inflammation of the legs. Ivanof says that when he entered the 
hospital, he was reported as suflfering from a disease of the liver 
(probably cirrhosis), fatty degeneration of the heart and inflam- 
mation of the spinal marrow. It seems obvious that he had 
practically no chance of recovery, but possibly the end was 
hastened owing to his having been able to procure, with the 
complicity of one of the hospital servants, a bottle of brandy.^-^^ 

Thus ended the tragedy. Looking backwards, one can but 
wonder whether anything could have averted it after the outbreak 
of 1873. The following lines, which refer to Rimsky-Korsakof's 
depiction of him in the Memoirs, arouse painful misgivings : 

I knew Mussorgsky only during the last three or four years of his life, 
and but slightly. I had the impression that his friends, and even his 
boon companions, had turned their backs upon him. He was always 
lonely, and felt his loneliness keenly. Any kind or encouraging word 
moved him deeply, but few of these came his way. Nobody took him 
seriously, and in the midst of the great city he felt himself quite alone. 
After all, even if his friends did not approve of his music, there was no 
reason on earth for them not to behave with him as they did with 
other people. He did not mind their views on his music much : but an 
atmosphere of coldness was created around him, partly owing to 
Stassof's intolerance and tactlessness. Stassof was so fierce in his 
onslaughts on those who did not agree wholesale with his vehement 


1874- i88i 

praise of Mussorgsky that he irritated many people, and Mussorgsky 
paid the penalty. The atmosphere of indifference around him sapped 
his vitality. Even as told in the Memoirs, the story of his downfall is 
profoundly moving. The truth is so very different from what had been 
said and repeated. What relation is there between the portrayals 
bandied about of an arrogant, opinionated Mussorgsky and the 
unfortunate artist as he really was — an outcast child, grateful for the 
slightest signs of kindness or attention?* 

Of the many other tributes paid to his sweetness and gentleness, 
another two may be quoted : 

Only one thing comforts me a little: that never during the long years 
of our friendship did I utter a single word or give the slightest sign of 
disapproval. He will live in my memory not only as the composer of 
Boris but as a rare, kind, honest and affectionate man.| 

He was everybody's friend and his own enemy. His kindness was 
boundless. The coolness and gentleness with which he bore the burden 
of his distress and difficulties were remarkable : he would laugh good- 
humouredly and carry on. He liked to poke fun at other people, but 
never uttered a word in malice. J 

Looking back upon his life, one realizes with astonishment and 
relief (for one feels him to have been as lovable as he was un- 
fortunate) that he does not seem to have been as unhappy — except 
maybe now and then for short spells — as might have been 
expected. The childlike elements in his heart and soul, which 
endured to the very end, helped him greatly in his losing fight. 
His delight in the simplest pleasures and especially in the beauties 
of nature, his love for children and the bonds of sympathy that 
never failed to arise between him and them, are traits of character 
noteworthy not only in themselves, but because of the influence 
they had on him in his hours of adversity. Thanks to an infinite 
capacity for cheerfulness and hope, and to a strong faith in every 
one of his ventures or visions, he never allowed disappointments or 
failure to crush him, and he was able to find a large measure of 
happiness where anyone endowed with a less sunny disposition 
would have yielded to gloom. 

There was, no doubt, too much softness in his make-up. A 

* M. Ivanof, Novoe Vremya, 20 April 1909. 

t Shestakova in a letter to Stassof, 20 March 1881. 

% Kompaneisky, loc. cit. 



Stronger nature might have resisted the nefarious influence of the 
Cadets' School and regiment. Maybe there was in him a pre- 
disposition to dipsomania coupled with an abnormal susceptibility 
to liquor: let his declaration that he did not enjoy drinking 
{supra, p. 129) and his habit of refusing wine when dining with 
friends (ib. 192) be remembered. If so, there would be a striking 
resemblance between his case and that of Edgar Allan Poe. 
Whether his fate would have been different had he not been 
launched on a military career can only be conjectured. 

He was given an impressive funeral, which took place on 18 
March. Wreaths were sent by the Imperial Theatres, the Con- 
servatoire, and other official organizations. He was laid to rest 
in the Alexander Nevsky cemetery, close by Glinka's grave, and 
not far from Dostoevsky. On 27 November 1885 a monument, 
designed by the architect Bogomolof, and bearing a medallion 
bust by Ginzburg, a pupil of Antokolsky, the titles of his principal 
works and two lines from Pimen's narrative in Boris Godunof: 

And thus the future generations 

Will of their faith and people learn the past 

was unveiled. Balakiref, Borodin, Cui and Rimsky-Korsakof held 
the corners of the veil that covered it. 




Khovanshchina nearly finished in vocal score form — Lack 
of dramatic action — Main differences between the music and 
that of Boris Godunof — The existing portions of The 

Sorotchintsi Fair 

KHOVANSHCHINA, it will be remembered, was begun in 1873, 
Mussorgsky's intention was to picture the political events that 
marked the troubled years of the minority of Peter the Great, 
the principal characters being Prince Ivan Khovansky, the 
upholder of the old feudal regime and a plotter against the throne ; 
Prince Golitsyn, who believed that Russia would find salvation 
by adopting Western civilization ; and Dosifei, a monk, the leader 
of the Old Believers, whose concern was not with temporal 
affairs, but with spiritual salvation, and who regarded modern 
innovations as the work of Satan. The subject was to be the clash 
between the old regime and the new, the Princes Khovansky 
plotting against the throne, the annihilation of the sect of the 
Old Believers, and the final triumph of the Empress Regent and 
Tsar Peter the Great. 

In proportion as he studied all available historical documents, 
he allowed himself to be swamped by the wealth of facts and 
particulars which he was ever discovering. In his eagerness to 
use them all, and also to work out to the full other scenes of his 
own devising, he lost all sense of proportion, and was led to 
overlook even the most elementary structural requirements. 

Eventually, in a desperate attempt to reduce his sketches and 
plans to order, he found himself compelled to shorten or leave out 
part of what he had already written, and to give up the idea of 
tackling certain other scenes. Instead of thereby making good the 
obscurities and gaps in the action, he increased them; and there 
is in Khovanshchina much that appears unconnected with the drama 
as a whole, besides not being interesting per se. Moreover, he was 
unable to finish the work : very little of what he had planned for 
Act V was written, and of that little, not all has been preserved ; 
and only a few portions of the music were scored. 



How does the music compare with that of Boris? To answer 
the question briefly is difficult. It may be said, roughly, that it is 
carried out on broader and somewhat smoother lines, with few 
bold innovations and a lesser wealth of interesting, pregnant 
technical details. Here and there it is thinner in texture ; and, as a 
rule, it proceeds at a slower pace, in keeping with the action, which 
has none of the continuous onward impetus of Boris, Certain 
portions of it are weak, but many others are as telling and original, 
and as beautiful from the purely musical point of view (that is, 
apart from their value for dramatic purposes of characterization) 
as anything in Boris, 

Its dramatic significance is different because its function is 
not the same. In Boris there is always action. The principal 
characters are doing something or other or tending somewhere 
or other. They are in motion, and in this motion the music 
co-operates. In Khovanshchina the only two things which occur on 
the stage and bear consequences shown on the stage are Shak- 
lovity's denunciation and Andrei's pursuit of Emma. The other 
scenes are illustrative rather than active : chapters from or illustra- 
tions to a chronicle rather than constituent parts of a drama. 
In other words they are, essentially, characterization. 

Much of the music of Khovanshchina is first rate and thoroughly 
representative of Mussorgsky: notably Dosifei's discourses in 
Act i, the crowd scenes and soldiers' scenes, the exciting march 
(chorus and orchestra; vocal score, pp. 62 ff.) and Ivan Kho- 
vansky's entry in Act ii. Marfa's incantation and prediction 
(pp. 136 ff.) and in Act iii her love-song; Shaklovity's aria (the 
style of which is very close to Glinka's), the entry of the Streltsy, 
again a rousing march with a chorus, and the final panic scene. 
Act iv is magnificent throughout, and exemplary in its terseness. 
What little is preserved of Act v is of austere grandeur. But certain 
signs, here and there, betoken either lack of attention, or exhaustion 
of ingenuity. For instance, Mussorgsky often uses patterns con- 
sisting of two falling intervals, either of which may be a third or 
fourth or a fifth thus: 

Ex. 42a 

These occur, throughout his output, in his instrumental and in his 



vocal music; but in the trio in Act ii so many phrases, whether 
sung by GoHtsyn, Khovansky, or Dosifei, end in some form of it, 
that monotony ensues. 

A few style-idiosyncrasies will be mentioned in a later chapter. 
Generally speaking, the music except when it is archaic in 
character — as in the chants of the Old Believers — is less uncon- 
ventional than that of Boris. The rhythms, the melodic designs, 
and the periods are more often symmetrical, and the harmonies 
plainer. The texture is less rich, indeed thin at times; the accom- 
paniment often is less significant, playing but a subordinate part, 
and consisting here and there of mere unison or duplication. 

It is impossible to say whether these deficiencies would have 
been made good in the scoring. Mussorgsky scored but two 
fragments, Marfa's love song and the beginning of the ensemble 
that follows upon Shaklovity's aria, with regard to which the 
question does not arise. It should be added that the occasional 
thinness of texture makes itself felt even in Rimsky-Korsakof 's 

There is no need to press the point further. Music-lovers wishful 
to know Mussorgsky as he really was, and to enjoy his music to 
the full, will welcome the publication of the genuine text. Study 
and enjoyment must be independent of many considerations which, 
under other conditions, would legitimately arise. We must be 
willing to treasure the musical beauties of Khovanshchina for their 
own sake. Many are the scenes which, adequately and reverently 
scored, might grace the repertory of our concerts. But the signifi- 
cant musical drama of which Mussorgsky dreamed at the very 
time when he had finished composing his wonderful Boris Godunof 
was never to be. 

The portions of The Sorotchintsi Fair completed by Mussorgsky 
are: the Prelude, bearing the sub-title 'A summer day in Little- 
Russia' — fairly long and in full score; the market scene (adapted 
from Mlada) and part of the sequel, including a comic scene 
belonging to Act i; the major part of Act ii; the fantastic vision 
scene adapted from A Night on the Bare Mountain (chorus and piano 
duet) ; a short instrumental 'Hopak', and a couple of separate 
songs. Apart from the market scene and fantastic scene, these are 
utterly simple in texture, and at times thin. But most of the music 
is attractive, especially from the melodic point of view — attractive 
enough for the temptation to have arisen to publish and perform 
them as they stood or with a minimum of necessary complements. 



The first editors were Liadof (1904) and Karatyghin (19 12). 
Since then, three composers in turn have undertaken to complete 
and orchestrate the work: Cesar Cui, in 1915 (version produced 
at St. Petersburg in 191 7 and pubHshed by Bessel in 1924); 
Nikolai Tcherepnin (version produced at Monte Carlo in 1923, 
published by Bessel in 1924) ; and Shebalin (version published by 
the Russian State Editions in 1933). 

The Shebalin edition is the only one that contains the fantastic 
scene. The inclusion of this very robust, mordant, weighty scene 
in a light comedy is regarded as a mistake by Karatyghin. In itself, 
it is, without a doubt, one of the most impressive things in 
Mussorgsky's output. As regards]' the musical value of The Fair 
generally, opinions vary. Karatyghin sets it very high, describing 
it as "the one and only example he has left us of pure comedy, 
never suggesting inner qualms or reflecting the worries and 
turmoil of town life, and containing no ultra- radical experiments 
such as are to be found in The Marriage.'' But, in all likelihood, 
most students will endorse Gerald Abraham's opinion: "The 
music contains some lovely pages and some broadly humorous 
ones, but the falling off of his inspiration in this opera is un- 
mistakable. Still, let us be fair. If it was the work of a lesser man, 
we should welcome its sheafs of pleasant tunes, its grotesque humour 
and its charming colour, without grumbling that it is not more 
than it is." 


chapter xv 

Posthumous Fate of the Works 

Rimsky-Korsakof as editor and reviser — The revisions versus 
the originals — A history of opinion in Russia and other 
countries — Gradual reaction in favour of the originals 

THE story of the fate of Mussorgsky's works from the day of his 
death to the present time is the strangest in the whole history of 

After his death, his friends' first concern was with his un- 
pubHshed manuscripts. FiUppof, in his capacity as executor and 
trustee, took charge of all business arrangements. An agreement 
was signed giving Bessel all rights on the whole of the unpublished 
output, and Rimsky-Korsakof undertook to prepare the manu- 
scripts for publication. 

They were very defective, teeming with clumsy, disconnected 
harmonies, shocking part- writing, amazingly illogical modulations or 
intolerably long stretches without ever a modulation, and bad scoring. 
And yet, most of them proved so fine, original, and live, that it seemed 
imperative to publish them. To do so without adequately overhauling 
them would have been senseless, except from the biographical and 
historical point of view. If Mussorgsky's music retains its vitality for 
fifty years — that is, until the copyright expires — every publisher will 
be free to bring out archaeologically correct editions,* the manuscripts 
having been deposited by me in the Public Library. For the time being, 
however, what is needed is an edition for practical and artistic purposes, 
suitable for performance and for those who wish to admire Mussorgsky's 
genius, not to study his idiosyncrasies and sins against art.^^ 

Similar utterances by Rimsky-Korsakof are recorded elsewhere : 


I worship Boris Godunof and hate it. I worship it for its originality, 
power, boldness, independence, and beauty. I hate it for its short- 
comings, the roughness of its harmonies, the incoherences in the music. 

* Rimsky-Korsakof was speaking of Russia only. The law as regards unpublished 
texts or portions of texts varies according to countries ; and there are still legal restric- 
tions to the diffusion of the genuine texts of certain works not published by the original 
owners of the copyright. 


But this the people who regard Mussorgsky's weak points as the most 
significant features of his individuahty will never understand (Conver- 
sation of 6 April 1892). 

Although I know I shall be cursed for so doing, I will revise Boris. 
There are countless absurdities in its harmonies, and at time in its 
melodies. Unfortunately, Stassof and his followers will never undet*- 
stand (15 April 1893). 

I intend to write a circumstantial critical essay on Boris, discussing 
merits and flaws point by point. And only after having revised the 
whole of Mussorgsky's output shall I feel satisfied. My conscience will 
be at rest, for I shall have done for his music and memory all that I 
was capable of doing, and in duty bound to do (11 February 1 896) . 

He was convinced that only people who had "a bad musical 
ear" could think otherwise (letter to Kruglikof, 18 June, 1897).^^ 
He might have added to the reasons he gave Yastrebtsef, had he 
been wishful to add force to his arguments, that his attitude to 
Mussorgsky's music was no different from his attitude to his own, 
much of which he overhauled drastically time after time. "No 
single one of my big works anterior to A Night in May (1878) 
remained unrevised", he points out.^^ Moreover, his views on 
Mussorgsky's alleged sins against art were those held at that time, 
and long after, by the whole of musical Russia, barring Vladimir 
Stassof and those followers of his (probably very few in number) 
who are referred to in one of the above quotations. And even 
Stassof, after hearing the revised Boris, was so delighted that he 
started a subscription for a wreath, bearing the inscription 'To 
the great expounder of Mussorgsky'. 

A few people did at some time or other express the view that 
Rimsky-Korsakof had gone too far; notably Balakiref: "Besides 
re-scoring Boris and correcting harmonies in it (which was quite 
justifiable), he introduced in it many arbitrary alterations, which 
disfigured the music. He also spoilt the opera by changing the 
order of scenes."* 

But until after the First World War and the Russian Revolution, 
no single voice arose in Russia to suggest a return to the genuine 
Boris except, strange to say, Cesar Cui's: "Maybe Rimsky-Korsa- 
kof's harmonies are softer and more natural, his part-writing 
better, his scoring more skilful; but the result is not Mussorgsky, 

* Letter to the present writer, 25 July 1906. 



nor what Mussorgsky aimed at. The genuine music, with all its 
shortcomings, was more appropriate. I regret the genuine Boris, 
and feel that should it ever be revived on the stage of the Marinsky 
Theatre, it is desirable that it should be in the original." 

Thus, in an article* which he wrote after the production at 
St. Petersburg of the revised version by the Moscow Private 
Opera Company (see further, p. 219) did he partly atone, eighteen 
years after Mussorgsky's death, for his censorious articles and 
malicious jokes of 1874. 

Rimsky-Korsakof began by finishing Khovanshchina, casting it 
into shape, and scoring it (188 1-2). He accomplished this difficult 
task skilfully, even though he altered a good deal of the music 
ruthlessly. That Khovanshchina required, besides the finishing and 
casting into shape of the last act, a measure of overhauling is 
unquestionable. Even the most rabid censors of Rimsky-Korsakof 's 
activities as editor of Mussorgsky must grant that Khovanshchina, 
even if Mussorgsky had finished and scored it, could not have stood 
the test of performance; and that if Rimsky-Korsakof did not 
achieve the impossible task of giving it the continuity and logic 
which it lacks, at least he compressed it into a semblance of formal 
balance, and made it possible to produce. But it will have to be 
acknowledged, too, that in the genuine Khovanshchina there are 
interesting points and beautiful things which have been swept 
away in the process of revision. 

Then he tackled A Night on the Bare Mountain, Using, according 
to Rimsky-Korsakof,^^ materials from the earliest version for 
piano and orchestra (now lost) and from the two choral versions 
composed for Mlada and The Sorotchintsi Fair (but not, it would 
seem, Mussorgsky's own orchestral version of 1867, at the time in 
Balakiref 's keeping) he turned out an orchestral tone-poem which 
for many years remained the only known form of the work. 
Afterwards he dealt with a number of the songs, including the Songs 
and Dances of Death, which had not been left unfinished, but which 
he thought fit to edit before publication. 

He started his work on Boris in 1892, by re-scoring the corona- 
tion scene. Hearing this arrangement performed in 1893, he was 
delighted, and felt stronger than ever in his resolve to revise the 
whole score. He tackled the remainder of it in 1895, and the new 
version (a considerably abridged one) was given for the first time 
at St. Petersburg, in the hall of the Conservatoire, on 28 November 

* In the JVovostiy No. 67, 1899. 



1896, by the Obshchestvo Muzykalnykh Sobranyi (a designation 
best translated 'Music Society' or 'Music Club'). It was a great 
success. Later he prepared a new revision, comprising the whole 
of the 1874 vocal score, except for a few bars at the beginning of ^ 
Act ii, plus a certain amount of music of his own composition in 
the coronation scene and at the end of Act iii. His last words on 
the matter, in his Memoirs, were: "If ever people come to the 
conclusion that the genuine text is finer than my revision, they 
will cast this revision aside and give Boris in the original." 

No doubt they applied, in his mind, to his revisions of other 
works of Mussorgsky's too. He died on 7 June 1908, nineteen days 
after the first performance of Boris Godunof outside Russia (Paris 
Opera, his revision being used; see p. 222). 

It is doubtful whether any of the denunciatory articles that had 
appeared in the French Press reached him. The virulent and 
contemptuous tone of some of these would certainly have pained 
him, however sure he felt that he was in the right, and indeed that 
without his intervention Mussorgsky's music might have sunk into 
permanent oblivion. 

That there seemed to be some danger of this happening — at 
least so long as this music remained unknown outside Russia — is 
undeniable (see Findeisen's article of 1896, quoted p. 221). 
Produced for the first time in Moscow at the Grand Theatre on 
16 December 1888, Boris was received with favour by the public, 
but won little praise from the critics. One of these, however, 
Simon Kruglikof, an experienced and cultured judge, devoted 
several long and thoughtful articles to it in various journals, 
proclaiming that it was a duty to study and assess the music with 
all possible care, "especially as many people were doing their 
utmost to obscure and belittle Mussorgsky's gigantic talent and 
originality". Although he did not approve of all the liberties the 
composer had taken with usage, he praised the "fascinating 
beauty" of many of his harmonies, showed sensitiveness and 
acumen in his analysis of the music (far more circumstantial and 
judicious than any previous criticism of it) and concluded with the 
assertion that Mussorgsky's artistic policy fully justified itself* 

On the other hand, there was in Moscow a strong opposition 
to Mussorgsky's music. Tchaikovsky, while acknowledging that 
it did not lack power, deplored its clumsiness and ugliness. Serge 
Taneief (who at the time was the Director of the Conservatoire) 

* The articles are quoted or summarized by V. Yakovlef.^^ 



loathed and derided it. There is no reason to suppose that the 
opinion held by those two influential composers affected the 
fortunes of Boris. But the fact remains that it had but a short run — 
ten performances, the last of which took place on 12 January 1890. 

The Rimsky-Korsakof revision was given at the Solodovnikof 
Theatre, Moscow, in 1898, by the opera company maintained 
by the milhonaire art-lover Mamontof, Shaliapin appearing for 
the first time as Tsar Boris. This event sealed for many years the 
fate of Mussorgsky's original, so marvellously did the great singer 
and actor identify himself with the part and stamp it with his 

A consequence was that Bessel, the holder of the copyright, 
published the score and parts of the revision but, owing to lack of 
demand, ignored the genuine text, the manuscript full score of 
which (minus certain portions of the initial version, in private 
possession) remained shelved in the library of the Imperial 
Theatres until 1925, when Professor Lamm was entrusted by the 
Soviet State Publishing Department with the task of preparing it 
for publication. 

Still, while the revision was gaining ground, tribute was now 
and then paid to the original. In 1906, for instance, the Moscow 
critic Kashkin, who after the 1888 production had been lukewarm 
in his appreciation, wrote in the Russkaya My si (May number) : 
"Many of Rimsky-Korsakof 's corrections have done away with 
the character and expressive power of Mussorgsky's music. 
Whoever wishes to know Boris Godunof intimately must turn to 
the 1874 edition, and compare the text with Rimsky-Korsakof 's 
revision. While paying fair and full tribute to the mastery displayed 
in the latter, I am compelled to say that I regret the disappearance 
of much that was strong and original." Liadof, too, when preparing 
his edition of excerpts from The Sorotchintsi Fair had remarked: 
"It is easy enough to correct Mussorgsky's irregularities. The only 
trouble is that when this is done, the character and originality of 
the music are done away with, and the composer's individuality 

But on the whole, the only doubt that appears to have arisen 
in the minds of those who compared originals and revisions seems 
to have been which was the lesser of two evils : Rimsky-Korsakof 's 
palliative measures and embellishments or Mussorgsky's clumsi- 
ness and roughness. And the scales are seen to turn in the reviser's 



It was in France that the movement in Mussorgsky's favour 
began, as early as 1896, with the first lecture concerts given by 
Pierre d'Alheim and Marie Olenine d'Alheim; the first country 
outside Russia in which Boris Godunof was performed (although 
only in Rimsky-Korsakof's version, as everywhere else), the only 
country outside Russia in which the comparative merits of the 
genuine Boris as then known (1874 version) and of Rimsky- 
Korsakof's arrangement were extensively discussed before 1920 
or so. 

Long before the d'Alheim couple began their propaganda, 
interest in Mussorgsky's music had arisen in Paris owing to the 
entirely accidental circumstances that Saint-Saens, in 1874, had 
brought back from Russia a copy of the vocal score of Boris 
Godunof (published that very year) . This copy fell into the hands 
of a keen music-lover named Jules de Brayer, who was greatly 
impressed and vainly sought to arouse interest in the work. Later 
he found a fellow enthusiast in the person of Robert Godet, and the 
two jointly embarked upon a study of all the works of Mussorgsky 
which they were able to get hold of (not an easy task at that time) . 
It was through them that Pierre d'Alheim and his wife became 
acquainted with Mussorgsky's music. But until 1896 very Uttle 
occurred in the way of public propaganda and discussion. 

Curiously, the earliest real vindication of Mussorgsky's genius 
to have appeared in France is to be found not in any musical 
journal or book on music, but in the course of a review of Russian 
periodicals in the Revue des Deux Mondes (15 May 1894), from the 
pen of the very versatile, well informed and sensitive critic, Teodor 
de Wyzewa.* Referring to an essay on Mussorgsky in a Russian 
monthly, he declared that Mussorgsky was the most original, the 
most gifted, and the most truly Russian of Russian composers; 
and he spoke in glowing terms of the power, simplicity and touching 
beauty of Boris. These things he wrote at the very moment when 
Rimsky-Korsakof was preparing his first 'revision' in Russia of 
Mussorgsky's masterpiece. 

Two years later, d'Alheim's book, Mussorgsky, appeared in 
Paris; and seven concert-lectures given by him and his wife took 
that city by storm. D'Alheim was no music critic, and made no 
pretence of being one. He sought neither to analyse nor to dis- 

* T. de Wyzewa (1862-191 7), founder of the French Revue Wagnerienne, and author 
of various books on music, of which the most important is a big one on Mozart, in 
collaboration with G. de Saint-Foix. 


^■■: -'"ViS" ■ . - ,jp ■ 

■ - 11*! 

.2 oj 

o ^ 

Costume designs by Leon Bakst for Boris Codunof 


CUSS Mussorgsky's works: he introduced them, briefly described 
them, and more especially the atmosphere and setting in which 
they had cropped up. Madame d'Alheim, the admirable singer — 
ably assisted by the pianist, Charles Foerster — introduced compre- 
hensive selections of the works, and enthusiasm rose to a high 
pitch. Among the first to praise Mussorgsky's genius were the 
composers Bourgault-Ducoudray, Alfred Bruneau, Chausson; 
the philosophers, R. Barson and Jean Izoulet; novelists, poets, 
and even professional music critics. The ball thus set rolling did not 
stop. Mussorgsky recitals by Madame d'Alheim became a usual, 
eagerly awaited feature of every concert season, and the list of 
articles devoted to Mussorgsky kept steadily increasing. 

How very deeply this attitude of French musical circles con- 
trasted with the attitude current in Russia is clearly evidenced by 
the following lines from an article in the Russkaya Muzykalnaya 
Gazeta for April 1 896, written by the editor, Findeisen : 

When telegrams from Paris acquainted the Russian public with the 
fact that music by Mussorgsky had been performed with great success, 
they were very much bewildered, and thought it very strange that even 
a few eccentric Frenchmen should have been found to evince interest 
in music which we Russians have cast aside as worthless. But meanwhile, 
the eccentric Frenchmen think it no less strange that we should neglect 
our native art, and even strive to obliterate it, while more progressive 
nations are striving to take it in and propagate it. Very probably they 
compare us to those inhabitants of Laputa, whom Swift describes as 
so absorbed in self-admiration, that they notice nothing around them 
until they are awakened by someone hitting them on the head with a 

Interest and enthusiasm kept on increasing; and most of the 
people acquainted before 1908 with the published vocal scores of 
Boris Godunof were definitely in favour of the unrevised text of 
1874, and disliked Rimsky-Korsakof's revision. Copies of the 1874 
edition were comparatively plentiful in France, despite the trouble 
in procuring them; and a good many private performances of 
excerpts of the work took place in the homes of music-lovers. 

Among writings on Mussorgsky that appeared during the last 
part of this first period (i.e., before the first performance of Boris 
in Paris) special interest attaches to the brief but warm and illu- 
minating tribute paid to him by Debussy: 

II est unique et le demeurera par son art sans precedes, sans formules 



dessechants. Jamais une sensibilite plus raffinee ne s'est traduite par des 
moyens aussi simples. Cela se tient et se compose par petites touches 
successives, reliees par un lien mysterieux et par un don de lumineuse 

Despite the spread of the movement, however, it is impossible 
to say how long Paris would have had to wait for Boris Godunof 
but for the initiative taken by Diaghilef in producing the work in 
1908. The text used was Rimsky-Korsakof's 'revision' with many 
curtailments and additional inversions of scenes, f But, by way of 
compensation, copies of the 1874 edition were distributed among 
the principal music critics, with the result that a violent hue and 
cry arose against the reviser. For instance, in La Liberie^ Gaston 
Carraud wrote: "Rimsky-Korsakof's alterations are the most 
needless, incomprehensible and revolting thing ever done in a 
similar line. Like an insect pest, he has gnawed away every 
characteristic detail in the work — everything that struck him as 
irregular because he was incapable of penetrating its logic." 

In Le Mercure de France, Jean Marnold declared: "No words 
could be harsh enough to pass adequate censure upon the shame- 
ful havoc wrought by Rimsky-Korsakof. The clumsiness and 
ineptitude of his alterations suggest the mentality of a super- 
annuated impresario or professional librettist. It is utterly wrong 
to allege that Mussorgsky lacked technique, and that Boris could 
not be performed without Rimsky-Korsakof's alterations. J The 
instinct which guided his sensitiveness and his genius was a safer 
guide than any 'rule' could be. Let us now produce in Paris the 
genuine text of Boris and produce it in full." 

Many other articles expressing the same wish appeared. 
Of course, critics were not unanimous in their praise of 
Mussorgsky in general or of Boris Godunof in particular. An opinion 
hardly more favourable than Cui's is to be found, for instance, in 
Pougin's La Musique en Russie. And there is the curious case of 
Pierre Lalo, who after having been one of the early champions of 
Mussorgsky, gradually became less enthusiastic, and in 19 13 
wrote: "After the novelty of Boris Godunof has worn off, one 

* Revue Blanche, 15 April 1901. 

I It had been suggested to him by the present writer, who was one of his assistants, 
that he should use the genuine version. The suggestion could not be considered because 
the company had learnt the revised version, and the score and parts of the original 
were not available. -^^ 

% Marnold was going by the 1874 vocal score only: obviously neither he nor any 
other French critic could gain access to the original full score. 



becomes acutely conscious of the work's defects — first of all, the 
lack of order and consistency. Boris consists of separate pieces: 
no dramatic logic and no musical orderliness establishes an 
organic connection between them. Even the musical idiom is 
often incoherent, and the music adds very little to the words." 

A curious consequence of the introduction to musical Paris of 
Korsakof's version instead of the original was that Vincent d'Indy, 
writing on Boris in Art Moderne (7 June 1908) mentioned among 
Mussorgsky's devices, "glissandi of the harps, and muted 
trumpets" — which is very amusing, considering that in the genuine 
Boris the glissando of the harp is used on only one occasion, and 
there is no single muted note of the trumpet or of any other brass 
instrument. D'Indy also considered that "in nearly all the essential 
scenes of Boris music vanishes almost entirely, leaving everything 
to the tender mercies of the actor". 

The year 1 908 was marked by the publication in Paris of two 
books — one by the present writer, the other by Madame Olenine 
d'Alheim, Le Legs de Mussorgsky. Otherwise nothing of special 
importance occurred until 1922, when Robert Godet — seven and 
thirty years after his first enthusiastic contact with Mussorgsky — 
entered the lists with his article, 'Les Deux Boris' in the Revue 
Musicale, violently inveighing against Korsakof's revision. Godet's 
campaign, conducted in England as well as in France, culminated 
in the publication of his two volumes. En Marge de Boris Godunof"^ 
and the reprint under his editorship! of the 1874 vocal score of 
Boris (which had been unprocurable since 19 14). Thus, about a 
twelve-month before the first publication of the full genuine text 
of Boris Godunof, ended what may be called the second period of the 
history of Mussorgsky's works in France. 

As regards England, there is no need to mark any divisions in 
the period anterior to 1926. In point of fact, in England, very 
little was known of Mussorgsky until 191 o, when Madame 
d'Alheim carried to London her admirable propaganda. But 
from that time on, headway was made fairly rapidly : both on the 
occasion of Madame d'Alheim's recitals and of the first per- 
formance in England of Boris Godunof in 1 9 1 3 by the Diaghilef 
company, criticism set to work in earnest. 

The earliest assessment of Mussorgsky worth recording is 

* London: Chester, 1926. 
t ib., 1927. 



uncomprisingly unfavourable. It is from the pen of Edward 
Dannreuther and occurs in the Oxford History of Music"^ : "Mus- 
sorgsky, in his vocal efforts, appears wilfully eccentric. His style 
impresses the Western ear as barbarously ugly." In these few 
words is Mussorgsky judged and cast aside. In justice to Dann- 
reuther, who was a scholarly and conscientious writer, it should 
be recalled that in his preface to the volume in which those lines 
occur, he refers to "the impossibility, in dealing with the actualities 
of contemporary musical life, to avoid the expression of disputable 
criticism". However, the verdict, occurring in so very authoritative 
a work of reference as the Oxford History of Music, may have 
discouraged not a few would-be students of Mussorgsky's music. 

Among the early writers who expressed favourable views on 
Mussorgsky should be numbered Richard Capell {Musical 
Standard, 1909), Arthur Symons, and Mrs. Rosa Newmarch. 
The last-named, who conducted an active propaganda for Russian 
music generally and was generous in her praise of it, had a good 
deal to say in favour of Mussorgsky. Her attitude was from the 
first altogether eclectic; and with regard to Boris Godunof she was 
definitely in favour of Rimsky-Korsakof's arrangement. In an 
article in the Musical Times, July 191 3, she wrote: "When the 
question cropped up of producing Mussorgsky's operas, even 
Stassof, I feel sure, realized how needful was a revision, failing 
which Mussorgsky's original scores, despite their potential great- 
ness, ran the risk of becoming mere archaeological curiosities." 
And in her book of 19 14, Russian Opera, she describes not the 
genuine Boris but the revised version, with the scene in the cell 
placed before the coronation, and the PoHsh act before the scene 
in the Tsar's apartments — adding that she for one very much 
doubted whether it would be wise to give up Korsakof 's arrange- 
ments in favour of the originals. 

Among the most interesting articles published when Boris was 
first performed in London, one by E. A. Baughanf may be quoted 
for the warmth of its praise as well as for the remarkable analogy 
between its restrictions and those made by d'Indy and Lalo. The 
composer, Baughan says, "is a genius, not only as a musician but 
as a poet and seer, a regenerator of music-drama". He considers, 
however, that "the methods of Boris Godunof do not give full 
scope to music", and goes so far as to aver that "in such works 

* Vol vi, 1905. 

t Fortnightly Review y September 19 13. 



as Boris music does nothing which could not have been done as 
impressively by speech". But he described both Boris and Khovansh- 
china as "wonderful examples of dramatic insight and artistic 
sincerity". And concerning the structure of Boris he very aptly 
remarks: "It is alleged in proof of the looseness of structure of 
Mussorgsky's libretti that whole scenes can, and have been, 
omitted or transposed without apparently making any difference. 
The argument betokens a very inadequate understanding of the 
nature of Mussorgsky's music-dramas. The looseness of their 
structure is, in reality, an absolute merit, as it enables the com- 
poser to express the central ideas of the drama without being 
bound hand and foot by the dramatic situations." 

This constituted a very telling reply to an argument which 
also cropped up in England under the pen of Mr. Ernest Newman,* 
who found few merits in Mussorgsky's music, but many grave 
defects. He considered him "a much smaller figure than he is in 
the eyes of even thoroughly competent admirers . . . only half a 
musician in the sense in which we apply the word to Wagner 
and Strauss or even Gluck and Weber"; and he esteemed that 
time had amply confirmed Tchaikovsky's unfavourable verdict 
of 1879. His conclusions are: "Mussorgsky was an amateur with 
moments of genius. When he was not out of his depth, he could 
be extraordinarily poignant. He had the amateur's unconstrained 
way of saying just what came into his head, and just as it came 
there. . . . His untrained genius hit upon a number of what were, 
for the time being, harmonic innovations, and found new accents 
and a new naturalness for certain dramatic emotions. . . . Whether 
they are sufficient to atone for his general shapelessness and thin- 
ness of tissue, we may have our doubts." 

Writing in 1923 on the songs in the Musical Times, Mr. Newman 
again lay stress on Mussorgsky's amateurishness, and concluded 
his survey by quoting Tchaikovsky's verdict. But in the Sunday 
Times of 23 December 1934 he wrote: "In the generation of 
about 1860-90, the unquestionably great composers of which 
Europe could boast were Wagner, Brahms, Berlioz, Mussorgsky 
and Verdi." 

On the whole, a respectable amount of critical or semi-critical 
literature on Mussorgsky cropped up in England during the years 
immediately preceding the 1 914-18 war, and at irregular intervals 
after the war. A great proportion of it, of course, is not particu- 

* The Nation, 13 June 191 4. 



larly significant (among the exceptions should be mentioned 
a fine article by H. C. Colles in the Musical Times of August 191 2, 
dealing with the song-cycle Sunless) . But in bulk it was, in its time, 
a valuable contribution to the study of a composer whose music 
attracted little attention in most other countries ; and it paved the 
way for further progress. There can be no doubt that, had it been 
possible at the moment to know Mussorgsky better — few of his 
works were procurable with English translations, no copies of the 
1874 edition of Boris seem to have reached England — progress 
would have been far speedier. And yet when the Chester reprint 
of the 1874 Boris appeared, it attracted little attention among 
critics, even among those who had previously pointed out the 
desirability of comparing Mussorgsky's original music with the 
Korsakof arrangement. 

It was later that German critics began to display interest in the 
works of the national Russian school — for instance, in those of 
Borodin and Rimsky- Korsakof. To Balakiref they still pay very 
little attention. And they practically overlooked Mussorgsky 
until the beginning of the 1 930's. The only article of any impor- 
tance to have appeared before the 1914 war seems to be one by 
Oskar von Riesemann*. This may be due to the fact that the 
d'Alheim campaign did not extend to that country. However, 
echoes of the lecture-concerts of 1896 reached Germany in the 
shape of notices sent in by the Paris correspondents of several big 
newspapers. For example, in the Berliner Borsen Kurier (31 March 
1896), it was pointed out that Russia showed a strange lack of 
interest in Mussorgsky, and that Russian critics seemed systema- 
tically to avoid praising his music 'Tor fear of conveying a false 
idea of Russian art", which is a very shrewd definition of an 
attitude that continued long after. So that attention having been 
called to Mussorgsky at a time when practically nobody outside 
Russia knew anything of him, German criticism might have 
made an early start. As it turned out, however, nothing of the 
kind occurred. Let it be remembered again that at the time and 
long after, copies of Mussorgsky's works were not easily pro- 
curable, the Russian publisher having made no attempt to 
circulate these works abroad. 

In his article of 1907, von Riesemann described Boris Godunof 
as the most significant of Russian operas. As regards the genuine 
text of the work, he conveyed a false impression by the following 

* In Die Musik, 1907. 



ambiguous sentence: "Unfortunately, the full score of Boris 
Godunof in its original form is no longer available {liegt nicht mehr 
vory\ making no mention of the 1874 vocal score. In fact, the 
question of the genuine Boris versus the Rimsky-Korsakof arrange- 
ment was left untouched in the German countries until the moment 
when the 1874 vocal score was reprinted by Bessel, the original 
publisher, in conjunction with Breitkopf & Hartel (Leipzig) and 
the Universal Edition (Vienna). By that time (1924), many 
critics had become interested in Mussorgsky's output; and not a 
few started inquiring into the facts of his case. Among the keenest 
partisans of the genuine text of Boris Godunof should be mentioned 
Egon Wellesz, whose article in the Musikb latter des Anbruch (March 
1925) concludes with the words: "Mussorgsky's genius is fully 
entitled to speak without the assistance of a middle-man." And 
Paul Stefan, in the same periodical, wrote shortly afterwards: 
"The genuine Boris is a necessity for the musical world at large." 

Two big books on Mussorgsky which appeared in Germany — 
Oskar von Riesemann's (Munich, 1926) and Kurt von Wolfurt's 
(Berlin, 1927) — acquainted for the first time the German-speaking 
public with the biography of Mussorgsky as revealed by recent 
Russian research, and with the terms of what is often called the 
Mussorgsky problem. The authors were able to utilize a wealth of 
materials, new to non-Russian readers, which had not been 
available to earlier biographers, for instance, the majority of 
Mussorgsky's letters; and for this reason their books, in the matter 
of information, constituted a big advance on what had hitherto 
been done outside Russia. The same may be said in a measure of 
Robert Godet's En Marge de Boris Godunof. But a strange fate 
befalls all writing on Mussorgsky published outside Russia. 
No sooner do these appear than new materials concerning the 
composer's life, or new musical texts from his pen, crop up; and 
in consequence the books become inadequate, at least partly, 
almost as soon as published. For instance, among the revelations 
of the years 1908- 11 were The Marriage, the songs contained in 
the Malherbe manuscript Tears of Youth, the letters to Stassof and 
to Rimsky-Korsakof, etc. Von Riesemann's, Godet's and von 
Wolfurt's books appeared shortly before the publication of the 
genuine full text of Boris. 

The very fact that none of the three authors, referring to the 
initial version of Boris, says much about it, might be enough to 
convey the impression that this initial version deserves no closer 



attention. The same remark applies to their references to the 
passages not included in the published vocal score of 1874: 
passages among which are, let it be remembered, the important 
final episode of the first scene, and the particularly significant 
narrative of Dimitri's murder. In short, at every turn, we find 
progress more or less impeded by lack of adequate information. 

That this deplorable state of things persists is shown by the 
arrant nonsense that now and then crops up in the musical Press. 
For instance: 'Tt may be said that he did not finish a single one 
of his bigger works."* "Long after his death, it was discovered, by 
chance, that he had composed three operas, which were found 
among his papers in fragmentary form. Rimsky-Korsakof gave 
shape to Boris Go dunof 3,nd also Khovanshchina.''^ '\ 

After the feeling had spread that Mussorgsky was imperfectly 
represented in Rimsky-Korsakof's revisions, and that there was 
something fundamentally wrong in the neglect of the genuine 
texts, peculiar symptoms of the new frame of mind developed here 
and there. In 1927 Chester's, the London publishers, who had 
issued a reprint of the 1874 vocal score, commissioned the English 
composer, Eugene Goossens, to orchestrate excerpts from it, which 
were performed in England. A couple of years earlier, a Latvian 
composer, Meligailis by name, orchestrated the whole opera from 
the same 1874 vocal score, and this version was performed at Riga. 

In those days, the genuine full score was still unprocurable. But 
in 1933, five years after it had been published by the Russian 
State Editions in association with the Oxford University Press, a 
still stranger notion, according to the Dortmund correspondent of 
the Berlin Musik, occurred to a German producer: "The apex 
of our opera season was the production of Boris Godunof. Felix 
Wolfes sought to do away with the smoothness imparted to the 
work by Rimsky-Korsakof, and to bring out the relation of the 
music to Russian folk-music. This he did by reassembling the 
rhythms {durch rhythmische Umgruppierungen) and by characteristic 
alterations of the scoring. "J 

It was in the spring of 1925 that the first notices of the forth- 
coming Lamm edition of the genuine Boris in both versions (plus 
footnotes indicating the cuts that differentiate the 1874 vocal 

* Leonid Sabaneev, in Musical Times , April 1931. 

t L. von Ungern-Sternberg : Signale, 27 November 1935 — that is, seven years 
after the pubHcation of the Lamm edition of Boris. 

% E. A. Schneider, in Die Musik, March 1933. 



score from the 1872 version) appeared in the Russian Press, the 
beginning of a series in which most of Mussorgsky's other works 
are available by now. 

From that moment on, controversy assumed big proportions. 
The Rimsky-Korsakof versus Mussorgsky question is not yet 
settled. When it first arose it was the only one of its kind within the 
ken of the musical world, although parallels were to be found in 
the sphere of the other arts (Schiavonetti's engravings of Blake's 
drawings, with the faults corrected; Shakespeare's plays with the 
order of the scenes changed, and portions of the text transferred 
from one character to another, The Merchant of Venice ending with 
the trial scene, etc.). Since then, a good many have cropped up 
and been discussed: Bruckner's symphonies in their various 
versions, Mahler's version of Wolf's Corregidor, the two versions of 
Wolf's Penthesilea; and Mottl's revision of Peter Cornelius's The 
Barber of Baghdad. Each one, after the facts have been fully ascer- 
tained, has to be considered from no less than three distinct points 
of view: the ethical, the aesthetical, and the practical. 

Dealing with the revision of The Barber of Baghdad, the German 
critic, Peter Raabe, arrived at conclusions that are of general 
value : 

To revise is wrong so far as it means altering the music because 
one does not like it. It may be right so far as it means doing away with 
purely technical shortcomings originating in the composer's lack of 
knowledge or experience. In other words, a reviser has no right to 
interfere in his capacity as a composer — arbitrarily to alter harmonies, 
rhythms, melodic patterns, to thicken or thin inner parts, and so on. 
So long as the genuine Barber remained unknown, everybody found 
Mottl's version delightful. Now that we know the original, we see that 
he altered its colour-scheme and style.* 

Rimsky-Korsakof did not feel that he was acting in his capacity 
as a composer when he altered Mussorgsky's consecutive fifths or 
"appalling" modulations. Yet there can be no doubt that he was. 
Thickening or thinning inner parts may come very near doing 
away with purely technical shortcomings. Lamm and his co-editor 
Boris Assafief, whose scrupulousness is exemplary, did consider it 
desirable to add here and there a note or two (very few in all, and 
all marked by brackets and footnotes) to the inner parts of Boris. 
Still, despite the occasional difficulty of deciding where to stop in 

* Abridged from article in Deutsche Musik-Kultur, August-September 1937. 



borderline cases, the principle holds good; and accordingly a 
large proportion of Rimsky-Korsakof's alterations stand con- 

From the ethical point of view, there can be no doubt that the 
composer's ultimate decision should be accepted as final. The 
facts and arguments adduced in the debates on the Bruckner case 
have shown how difficult it can be to determine what a composer's 
ultimate decision was, and whether it was not taken under 
pressure, or for special reasons on a special occasion, and so forth. 
The question does not arise with regard to Rimsky-Korsakof's 
revisions made after Mussorgsky's death; but it does with regard 
to the two genuine forms of Boris, and also to the cuts made 
between 1874 and 1881. The people who proclaim that the 1874 
vocal score settles the question of the final form of Boris because it 
is the only printed version that was sanctioned by the composer 
may be right in principle. But if the principle is carried to its 
logical conclusion, they should accept as part and parcel of 
Mussorgsky's ultimate decision the cuts practised before the first 
performance and sanctioned by his presence at the rehearsals and 
his letter to Napravnik, thanking him for his excellent advice. 

The following remarks^^ will show that even the evidence 
afforded by his manuscripts is sometimes perplexing: 

The Mussorgsky autographs in the Leningrad public library repre- 
sent practically the whole of his output; and these autographs shed 
light on his methods of composition. There are practically no rough 
drafts. From the earliest to the latest, clear drafts, in beautiful 
calligraphy, ending with date and signature with flourish, plus, at 
times, quaintly worded particulars as to place and circumstances of 
composition. One may confidently aver that we have neither pre- 
liminary drafts nor drafts unmistakably representing final states, 
approved as such by the composer. Whenever dissimilar texts are 
available, each variant gives the impression of an improvisation 
substituted for another improvisation. This suggests that while he had a 
firm, clear basic notion of what he wanted to do, a certain latitude was 
left in his mind for oscillation, so to speak, in the carrying out. Hence 
differences, at times considerable, at other times minute. 

This conclusion is justified in the main. The term 'oscillation', 
however, hardly covers diflferences as great as those between the 
two versions of 'Little Star' and 'Saul'. It is a curious fact that 
some of the dissimilar clear drafts of songs should bear the same 



date — for instance, the two of 'Yeremushka's Lullaby' (Lamm 
edition, pp. 52 ff. and 56 ff. both "16 March 1868"), 'The Classicist' 
(ib., pp. 34 ff. and 38 ff. both "30 December 1867"), and 'The 
Orphan' (ib., pp. 46 ff, and 49 ff., both "13 January 1868").* 

Judgments founded on purely aesthetic grounds differ quite as 
much. For the early Russian critics of the revisions, Rimsky- 
Korsakof was invariably right, or almost ; for Godet (who spoilt 
his case by heaping scurrilous abuse upon him), for Marnold, 
Carraud, and most of the Russian critics of to-day, he was inva- 
riably wrong. A majority of critics agree by now that a few of 
his minor alterations may be to the good in themselves, especially 
if considered apart from their context; but that, all told, he 
has deplorably weakened, cheapened, and in some instances 
positively disfigured, Mussorgsky's music. 

Even the subsidiary question, whether the revisions prepared 
the ground for the ultimate vindication of the genuine texts, 
remains controversial, although the opinion that they did is wide- 
spread and seems reasonable. In Russia they did, without a doubt. 
But it is admissible that had the original been used for the first 
production of Boris outside Russia (and there is every reason to 
suppose that Diaghilef, who was in a large measure independent 
of Russian opinion, would have considered using it had this been 
possible) its success — hardly a matter of doubt in the Paris of 
1908 — might have turned the tables in its favour. 

Against the old view that most of Mussorgsky's music was 
healthless until Rimsky-Korsakof intervened, the view that its 
vitality must have been great indeed for it to have survived despite 
the alterations has arisen. It is most unfair to Rimsky-Korsakof, 
but it gains ground every day. During the past ten years or so, a 
considerable amount of literature on Mussorgsky and his music 
has appeared, and a body of opinion has been formed, based on 
genuine criticism and not on mere generalities, slogans, or text- 
books. It remains to be seen whether the revisions will ultimately 
be swept away by common consent, or whether a number of 
experienced judges, either practising musicians or critics, will 
always be found (as is the case at the time of writing) to prefer 
these revisions or to flounder forever in a sea of doubt. 

Such was the astonishing fate of Mussorgsky's music after 1881. 
It is no exaggeration to say that, little known during his lifetime 

* Mussorgsky's few surviving sketches and rough drafts have been pubHshed in 
Vol. V of the Complete Edition (1939) — Ed. 



in his own country, and quite unknown elsewhere, he rose to 
world-wide fame on the strength of compositions not one of which, 
except for a proportion of the songs and a few minor piano pieces, 
was known in its genuine form. 

As soon as one tries to imagine the same thing happening to a 
writer, a painter, a sculptor, or an architect, one realizes the 
enormity, the topsy-turviness of it all; and at the same time it 
flashes upon the mind that it simply could not happen, even though 
it is open to doubt whether a reason of principle can be found for 
ruling out the possibility of remodellings by an alien hand being 
finer than the originals. It is amazing enough that it should have 
happened to a composer, although music is of all the arts the one 
whose relation to the human intellect (as distinct from the 
imagination) and action upon the imagination and feelings are the 
most mysterious. Intuition alone can decide whether changes that 
seem to be, in principle, innocuous, or even positively beneficial, 
are not detrimental in actual fact. Substitute one artist's (or 
critic's) intuition for another's and a contrary verdict may ensue 
(e.g. Liadof's for Rimsky-Korsakof 's) . As has been pointed out 
again and again — notably by Kashkin in his article of 1906 — • 
Rimsky-Korsakof's nature and outlook were fundamentally 
different from Mussorgsky's. For him, "an opera was first and 
foremost a musical composition". 

After Mussorgsky's death, Stassof decided that The Marriage 
should not be published forthwith. In the obituary of 1881, he 
gave his reasons thus: "Now that Mussorgsky is no more, I shall 
do not as I please, but as I must. I deposit the manuscript with 
our national public library. . . . For the time being, most people 
regard it as an intolerable, foolhardy, wanton experiment. A day 
will come when a different view will be taken." 

He made it a condition that the manuscript should remain 
unavailable for inspection for a term of years. In 1906, shortly 
before his death, he agreed to a suggestion made by Rimsky- 
Korsakof that publishing should be considered, with the result 
that it appeared at the end of 1908. 

His seemingly high-handed and arbitrary decision to secrete 
the manuscript proved justified by the event. There is no denying 
that there was no chance of the one act having a run of per- 
formances, and that the Russian musical world would have shown 
but little interest in it. But when it appeared at last, it was found 



SO attractive and racy that, eventually, Ippolitof-Ivanof under- 
took to finish the work, so that it could gain access to the stage.* 
Since then, according to notes that appeared in the Press, two 
other composers have undertaken the same task: one a Russian, 
Alexander Tcherepnin, and the other a Dutchman, Daniel 

Russian State Editions, 1931. 


Technique and Style (I) 

Influence of Russian folk-music — Its modes, scales, and 
rhythms — Native part-singing — Harmonization problems — 
The question of Mussorgsky^ s technical ability and musical 


MANY features of Mussorgsky's idiom and style have already 
been mentioned, and some of them examined, the lines along 
which a methodical study should proceed being thereby indicated. 
Obviously, every one of the idiosyncrasies discovered should be 
considered, first of all, in relation to the composer's national 
ambitions, since we know he wished his music to be thoroughly 
Russian, not only in respect of vocal intonation, delivery, rise and 
fall, lilt, and expression, but even in purely musical evocations 
cf. chapter V, p. 73, his letter to Nikolsky on A Night on the 
Bare Mountain), and also that his musical idiom and style were 
formed under the influence of Russian, and especially Great- 
Russian, folk music. 

Afterwards will come the question of realism, since he aimed at 
a maximum of accuracy, simplicity, and specificness, and did not 
believe in the quest of beauty for beauty's sake, his ideal being 
what we have termed a minimum of stylization together with a 
maximum of differentiation. 

These two principles, with all the consequences they entailed in 
Mussorgsky's actual practice, help to account for many of the 
idiosyncrasies of his style, although, of course, not for all. The 
surprising thing is that this line of investigation yields far more 
numerous, definite, and useful results than might be expected, 
considering how easy it is in matters such as musical nationalism 
and realism to proceed from vague generalities to loose generaliza- 

On the question of specific Russian intonation, of the influence 
of Russian speech on Mussorgsky's music, it is not possible to 
say much here: long disquisitions on points of comparative 
linguistics, phonetics and parlance would be needful. Let it be 



mentioned, however, by way of indication, that the Russian 
language is strongly accented. The tonic accent plays a big part 
in it, but does not stand out as much as it does in German — a 
comparison with the Italian would be nearer the mark. It can 
occur on any syllable, even the second of a six-syllable word. 
Secondary accents are few, and never strong; and the difference 
between long syllables and short is never as great as in Italian. 
All this makes for suppleness of delivery. Russian also lends itself 
to emphatic and pathetic accents, sharp rather than prolonged, 
and is richer in colour and variety of inflexion than any other 
European non-Latin language. It has fine open vowel sounds; 
and the consonants, including the combinations of them that 
appear so strange to Western Europeans, are never harsh or 

Mussorgsky had ideas of his own on the effects to be achieved 
by using certain vowel sounds. Stassof records, for instance, that 
he wished the Latin hymn sung by the Jesuits in the revolution 
scene in Boris Godunof to contain as many 'i's' and 'u's' as possible, 
"in order the better to suggest their humble and timorous 
attitude". It is not always possible to decide whether such extreme 
subtleties are as effective as he imagined them to be. Although 
extremely sensitive to the sound of words, he did not often resort 
to artifices of that order. He was not interested in the alliterative 
effects dear to Wagner. Vowel alliterations, as it happens, are 
unavoidable in the Russian language ; many of those that occur 
in texts set to music by Mussorgsky (including the texts written 
by himself) are most effective, and might appear to have been 
deliberately arrived at, although this is seldom the case. Naturally, 
hardly anything of all this could be realized from translations of 
his vocal works ; and the whole question of the correspondences in 
pace, rise and fall, cadences, and so on, that exist between his 
musical invention and Russian parlance is bound to remain a 
sealed book to non-Russians. Anybody can see, however, to how 
great an extent his recitative differs from that of any other master, 
Italian, French, or German, ancient or contemporary; and that 
his melodies, even when their relation to vernacular folk-tunes is 
not obvious, are very different from those we find in Schubert, 
Schumann, Berlioz, Bellini or Verdi. It should be added that even 
in Russian music, no parallel is to be found. His purely lyrical 
melodies show affinities with Glinka's; but his recitative remains 
unique — owing as, already mentioned, little to Dargomyjsky's 



(the point will be elaborated presently), and being impossible to 
imitate closely enough to create an illusion of the real thing. 
His Russian critics agree in describing Mussorgsky as the one and 
only composer whose musical thinking was invariably governed 
by the influence of everyday Russian speech. 

The influence on him of native folk-music is far easier to explain. 
A few general considerations may help to clear the way. In all 
countries, folk-music and church-music provided the basis of 
art forms and styles. In Western Europe the art of musical compo- 
sition was born early and progressed gradually. Culture-music 
evolved apart from folk-music, pursuing a course of its own which 
led up to the great art forms of the modern period. And in the 
course of this evolution, it renounced the old modes of church- 
and folk-music in favour of the major-minor system, which became 
the very foundation of these great art forms. But nothing of this 
had affected Russia : she had had no culture-music of her own 
until late in the eighteenth century. So the nineteenth-century 
composers — beginning with Glinka, who longed "to give his 
fellow-countrymen music in which they would feel thoroughly at 
home" — had to cope, on the one hand, with the necessity to 
resort to art forms originating in a tradition in the establishing 
and maintaining of which Russia had taken no part ; and on the 
other hand, with the impulse to remain faithful to the long and 
strong tradition of the native music which surrounded them, 
which was to them a close and live reality, and which pointed in 
a different direction. They had to effect a reconciliation, an 
adjustment between these two driving forces. They tried to do 
what normally would have been the work of many generations. 
Since Western theory and usage ignored the modal scales and 
their potentialities, the technique of composition, as taught at the 
time, was of a kind calculated thoroughly to discourage modal 
leanings and progress in the direction which such leanings 
naturally suggested. Owing to Mussorgsky's attitude to the rules 
of composition, he is of all the Russians the one in whose music 
the idiosyncrasies of the old vernacular music are the most faith- 
fully incorporated or reflected, and most ingeniously and aptly 
put to use. 

Russian folk music is fundamentally modal. Practically all the 
mediaeval modes appear in it. Consequently, it differs from 
major-minor music not only in character and colour, but in 
balance. How far the way in which those modes are used in it 



conforms to the old modal usage is a point on which specialists 
disagree, and which need not be examined here; it is a known 
fact that there is little relation between that old usage and the 
practice of the modern composers (not all of them Russian) 
who resort to modal scales. It is interesting to note, on the other 
hand, that in Russian folk-music the second degree of the scale 
often plays the part of the dominant — although not, let it be 
marked, as it would in the major-minor system, in its capacity as a 
component of the usual dominant harmony. And this same 
degree may also play the part of the subdominant, as the sixth 
degree does at times. Naturally, there often is no leading note; 
and when there is one, it exercises no strong pull. The character, 
strength and direction of the cadences are determined by these 
various idiosyncrasies, falling cadences being numerous, and the 
dominant-tonic full close a rarity. A tune may end, not on the 
tonic or on the equivalent of the final of old modal usage, but on 
any other degree — even, as shown by certain analysts, on the 
seventh which does not imply, as it would in the major-minor 
system, the harmony of the dominant any more than the second 
degree does. 

The melody may pass from one modal scale to another, abruptly 
or by means of some simple kind of modulation. It does not always 
revert to the original scale. Irregular scales corresponding to no 
particular mode (examples of such scales in Mussorgsky's music 
are given in the following chapters) do not occur; but there are 
many instances of defective scales, pentatonic and other; and also 
of what is termed in this book variable scales — a designation not 
included in the vocabulary of current theory. 

Variable scales are to be found in the folk-music of many 
countries. One, the melodic minor scale (in which the sixth and 
seventh degrees vary by a semitone), is included in the Western 
major-minor system. Another, the scale with the seventh degree 
varying by a semitone according to the requirements of the 
moment or the composer's taste, is "a characteristic style feature 
of the music of the Renaissance and remained current until 1 600 
or so". Others are used in modern music. A typical instance is 
provided by the opening theme of Ravel's Sonata for vioHn and 


p P\^ 



In variable scales, the changes do not represent extensions of 
the scheme such as result from the use, in the major, of the lowered 
sixth degree (minor subdominant harmony), second degree 
(Neapolitan sixth) and so on. They are not to be regarded as 
borrowings from related keys, or as marking a temporary modula- 
tion, a shifting of the balance; nor as chromatic alterations, 
passing-notes, grace-notes, or appoggiaturas. On the contrary, 
both forms will be found to behave as real notes of the scale, 
exactly as occurs in the above Ravel example. 

No foolproof method of determination can be suggested. It is 
almost entirely a question of feel. At times, the distinction between 
a variable scale and a combination of two scales is so fine that no 
solution will stand past dispute ; but a few borderline cases do not 
invalidate the principle. In this Russian folk-tune :^° 


¥ I J J jn J J] rij 1 1 J-hh J j ;r ] f 





the change to G natural certainly induces a change of mode; but 
not so in this one:^^ 







the change to F sharp. 

Before proceeding further, it should be mentioned that it is 
always possible — at least with the help of a few twists — to analyse 
modal or irregular formations, harmonic or melodic, in terms of 
ordinary tonality. Practically anything in music can be labelled 
passing-note or appoggiatura. In a certain German treatise, it is 
averred that the opening motif in Liszt's Faust Symphony: 

should really be understood as standing for: 



Many theorists deal in a similar spirit with modal formations 
in modern music, and certain Russian critics incline to do the 
same with Mussorgsky's melodies and harmonies. Keldysh^^ 
gravely explains that the opening chords in the coronation scene 
in Boris Godunof: 


are altered forms of the dominant harmony of G major. Such 
explanations often amount to stripping the music of its natural 
character and significance, and, unless one imagines, for instance, 
that Mussorgsky thought out the Coronation chords in terms of 
the harmony G B D F and then proceeded to devise condiments 
and disguises, they are of no help whatever. Often they are as 
absurd as it would be, when analysing a painting, to say that a 
certain scarlet is effective for the reason that it is really a magenta. 
Again the borderline is, at times, difficult to define and easy to 
overstep. Again it is a question of feel, of going by one's ear and 
sense of balance, not by text-book definitions or prescriptions. 

The above remarks make it clear that Russian folk-tunes do 
not imply tonal harmonies; and that, indeed, tonal harmonies 
will often be quite out of keeping. This is true of the folk- music of 
many countries. These, accordingly, have often been maltreated 
by composers incapable of thinking except in terms of the major- 
minor system, "the mode being ignored, and the melody referred 
to more than one tonic and treated as a patchwork of major and 
minor keys."^'"^ 

On the other hand, these tunes lend themselves to a variety of 
harmonizations, modal or not, simple or complex. This property 
of theirs played a big part in the formation of Mussorgsky's style. 
One example may serve as illustration. In the revolution scene in 
Boris he uses a folk- tune from the repertory of Riabinin, a Russian 
minstrel whom he had heard shortly before: 




W(^ - i r cr 

# — •- 






His treatment of it is a model of simplicity, subtlety, and aptness. 
He introduces it first over a holding note F, then over the double 
holding-note F G, and gradually leads up to the harmony: 





^— # 

\f V 


Hard is the fate of us Chris - tians all. 






that is, a chord of the ninth, passing-notes, and nothing else, but 
enough to ensure fullness and firmness and to reinforce the driving 
power of the beautiful tune. There is no need to inquire whether 
the mode is F aeolian or B flat dorian (G flat and A flat alternate 
with G and A natural) although it will be noted that the har- 
monization of the next verse (over the holding-note B flat) tends 
to confirm the latter interpretation. Mussorgsky, while resorting 
to a harmonic scheme which, in theory, is not modal in the least, 
has thoroughly succeeded in safeguarding the modal character of 
the tune (which, of course, is in F aeolian) . Tune and accompani- 
ment might have grown together.* 

* Compare Rimsky-Korsakof's harmonization of the same tune in A Hundred 
Russian Folk-Songs (1877): 

Ex, 51 










which does away, not only with the colour of the tune, but also with its buoyancy — 
an extreme case, for he has given us many thoroughly logical and delightful harmoniza- 
tions of folk-tunes. On this subject, a remark of Lapshin's^^ is worth noting: "Compare 
the treatment of the folk-tune 'The maiden went through the fields' in Khovanshchina 
[Marfa's love-song] and in Tchaikovsky's Storm overture, and you will see that 
Tchaikovsky, the master technician, who had no sense of folk- music, failed where 
Mussorgsky, the composer of that Boris which Tchaikovsky regarded as 'the vilest 
and messiest of operas', has given us a lovely gem." 



The books of folk-songs with piano accompaniments by 
Balakiref, Rimsky-Korsakof, Liadof and others show that Russian 
composers do not agree in the matter of their harmonization. More 
generally speaking, the question is a complex one, which as often 
as not has been dealt with one-sidedly. Writers — and especially 
Western writers — usually commit the error of regarding all 
Russian folk-tunes as monodies, an error fostered by the above 
collections. In actual fact a large proportion of these songs are 
sung chorally, the part-singing being either homophonic or 
contrapuntal in an elementary way, and passing freely from 
unison to chords or to contrasting designs and conversely. Often 
the resulting harmonies seem very strange to the Western ear. 

Here is one example of purely harmonic part-writing:* 

Ex.52 p^ , 

r' i' i' 0! If J/ J 

An even more remarkable one, containing chords in fourths (not 
an isolated example) is : 


■Pn , ,! J J 

r r r 


And here is a typical instance of the kind of counterpoint that is 
practised : 

Ex. 54 m m /^S 



The parts are nearly always diatonic. Among the very few 
exceptions, this one is an instance of real chromaticism, funda- 
mentally dissimilar to the chromatic changes in the afore-men- 
tioned variable scales: 

* Examples 52 to 56 are from various collections published or unpublished, and 
quoted elsewhere.^" 




When a tune passes from one mode to another, the singing — 
obviously for reasons of expediency — nearly always reverts to 
unison. Here is an instance which also shows a remarkably bold 
modulation : 


Such are, roughly, the tonal, modal and harmonic idiosyncrasies 
of Russian folk-music. The above examples show that it differs 
far more from Western music than is generally supposed. But 
while it is altogether correct to say that the notes of its scales 
have none of the set harmonic associations of the Western major 
and minor scales (for instance, as was said a while ago, the 
seventh degree is not necessarily related to the dominant), it 
would be inaccurate to say that they are as far from implying a 
harmony as plainsong is. On the other hand, most Russian folk- 
tunes do not imply a bass any more than plainsong does. 

Ever since modern Russian music became a subject of dis- 
cussion, there has been plenty of glib talk on its indebtedness to 
folk-music: but only from the point of view of melody and so- 
called local colour; the far more important question of the effects 
of native usage on the composers' harmonic, modulatory, and 
structural schemes remaining entirely neglected. It is true that 
nineteenth-century Russian music shows few signs of any direct 
influence of the rude, archaic methods of the peasant singers. 
Kastalsky, writing in 1923, averred that the one and only instance 
in the whole literature of the period was a chorus in Borodin's 
Prince Igor, Since then the following example from the unfinished 
fifth act of Khovanshchina : 


'>--H r ir 

17 ^' If I ^ f 



has come to light. It also is an exception. But on the other hand, a 
good deal of Mussorgsky's stark, abrupt part-writing, many of his 



harmonies, cadences and modulations were very close to what is 
to be found in the native music of Russia. 

Another important feature of this music is the extreme variety 
of its metres and rhythms, many of them asymmetric. Combina- 
tions such as : 



j-; i ;^f ;j-j'M 



m m 



I- Ha 

Mur- o-mcts,by name I 

van - o-vitch. he 

wan-dered thro' the 

are frequent. In the above example, the singing is strictly syllabic : 
but as often as not metre and rhythm are determined not by the 
number of syllables, not by scansion or accents, but by purely 
musical considerations. Here, for instance: 



fva^ [ 

By the gate 

ruf iiSQ 


the lit 






it is clear that the determining factor was the shaping and 
expansion of the melody. This, of course, is nearly always the case 
when several notes are sung to one syllable. 

Other characteristic types are: 5/8 + 6/8; 7/4 + 3/2; 
6/8 -f 7/8. All such changes may be recurrent or not. As regards 
rhythmic structure, it is also worth noting that neither very long 
note-values nor a great variety of note-values are used in any one 
tune. And as an instance of the asymmetric periods which are the 
outcome of asymmetric metres and rhythms, it will suffice to 
mention one tune^* consisting of one 7/4 bar followed by two 6/4 

All the above remarks show that Russian folk-music is the true 
prototype of Mussorgsky's. Hardly anything of the kind is to be 
found in the music of any previous composer. By now, asymmetry, 
frequent changes of time-signature, and modal and harmonic 
idiosyncrasies similar to those which will presently be studied, 
have long become current coinage. Indeed, Stravinsky and other 
composers of to-day have often been accused of using such 
resources to excess and mechanically. No similar accusation could 
be levelled at Mussorgsky. Not believing in art for art's sake, he 
was not interested in innovation for the sake of mere novelty. 
Wherever he felt that simple or, indeed, hackneyed effects would 
serve his purpose, he resorted to them as freely as, on other 



occasions, he would resort to unprecedented methods (the Pastor's 
music in Khovanshchina is a case in point). 

That his innovations — every one of them aiming, let it be 
repeated, at terseness and vividness in expression and charac- 
terization — should have been carried out along lines which many 
other composers found worth while following and extending (at 
times almost beyond recognition) is important from the historical 
point of view, but the point has no bearing upon the artistic value 
of his own achievements. There is no call whatever to stress his 
importance as a precursor when attempting to define and assess 
him as an artist; nor even to enquire which of his innovations were 
without precedent. A history of musical processes would take into 
account isolated instances of asymmetry in older music (quintuple 
time in Handel's, Reicha's, Chopin's, Boieldieu's and Glinka's, 
for instance) ; of modal features and unusual concatenations in 
Bach's and Berlioz's; of striking tonal plans in Beethoven's and 
Schubert's; and so on. But, when studying Mussorgsky's music, 
it is impossible not to come to the conclusion that it harks back to 
that of the Russian people without intermediate Hnks, even though 
points of contact (a few of them very striking) with that of Liszt, 
Berlioz and Schumann, Glinka and others occasionally reveal 
themselves (see chapter XIX). On the other hand, considering 
that expounders of twentieth-century music mention "the inven- 
tion of new basic rhythms" as an important feature, aver that "the 
slow movement of Tchaikovsky's Pathetic Symphony set every- 
body trying to think and beat in fives; refer to "texture founded 
on neo-modal or folk-song values" ^^ or proclaim that the new 
music has discovered entirely new values under the influence of 
folk-music^* — the question rises from the plane of history pure 
and simple to that of justice from both the historical and the 
artistic point of view. 

Before examining Mussorgsky's style in detail, it is necessary to 
deal with the vexed question of his technical ability. The following 
fines from an article (not on him, but on Ralph Vaughan Wilfiams) 
by A. H. Fox Strangways will make clear that this cannot be done 
adequately unless all the circumstances of the case are fully 
understood : 

The essence of the folk-song idiom is that the melody swings boldly 
from pivot to pivot, and does not employ the balances of 'civilized' 
music. But it is possible to write melody taking the pivots of the folk 
scale on a different plan or in a different order : in plain words, to take 



the facts of mode and distribute them by keys, and so to combine the 
directness of the one with the strength of the- other. This proposes a 
task whose discipHne is of great value. It forces the composer to create 
a new technique. Hence the verdicts that he 'lacks technique', that his 
counterpoint is 'untidy', that his harmonies 'do not modulate'. But 
those who pronounce such verdicts do not fully understand the task 
he has set himself to accomplish.* 

As already mentioned, verdicts on Mussorgsky's technical 
ability vary exceedingly, certain judges alleging that he was a 
mere bungler, incapable of properly carrying out even his finest 
conceptions (see also chapter XV, p. 225), and others that 
"it is incredible that people should go on describing him as an 
ignoramus and barbarian; his music is strong and refined; it always 
strikes the right note".^^ Indeed, the question is so delicate that 
even experienced and thoughtful critics are found to waver when 
tackling it. 

"Probably the real truth is that he never had in him the makings 
of a sound technique."t 

"That there were the makings of a fine craftsman in him is 
obvious from many of his works." J 

That he had acquired a bare minimum of technical proficiency 
in the usual acceptation of the term is beyond question. Although 
pure skill, which can be a bad master, is bound to be a good 
servant, he was not as misguided as might seem in refusing to 
strive to acquire more. The technique taught in his time certainly 
tended to foster formalism, and being narrow and cut-and-dried, 
was very difficult to outgrow. As shrewdly put by Gliebof,^^ 
the kind of technique that would have been useful to him was not 
in existence. It came into being much later, and he contributed 
greatly towards creating it. He certainly did talk a lot of nonsense 
about Western routine and false ideals : but this was simply because 
he felt Western technique pulling one way and his creative impulses 
another way. Russian composers of that time were bound to feel 
something of the kind, as Glinka had done — his references, in his 
Memoirs, to "the difficulty of getting out of the German rut" and 
to "strict German counterpoint being at loggerheads with free 
creative fancy" are significant in this respect. And it is impossible 
to see such overstatements in their true light unless one takes into 

* Music and Letters, April 1920. 

■j" Ernest Newman in Musical Times, February 1923. 
% Idem, Sunday Times, 13 October 1929. 


account the conditions and requirements of the country and period. 

The long and short of the matter is that to allege that Mussorg- 
sky never committed a technical mistake would be as absurd as 
it is to ascribe all his unconventionalities to lack of skill or of 
sensitiveness, and that it is even easier to exaggerate the ill effects 
of his technical shortcomings than it is to gloss them over. 

Each case must be examined on its own merits. And, inevitably, 
verdicts will vary according not only to each judge's behef in the 
perennial validity of rules, but also to his individual sensitiveness 
and taste. Let us take a concrete case: that of those consecutive 
fifths that abound in Mussorgsky's music. If we admit, with Stan- 
ford^^ that "fifths are as ugly now as they ever have been, as they 
ever will be, world without end, because their ugHness most 
probably depends upon natural phenomena and not upon 
individual taste" there is nothing further to be said on the matter. 
Remembering the discrepancy of the explanations offered by 
theorists in order to account for this alleged ugliness, and how 
greatly the attitude of musicians to fifths has varied in the course 
of time, it is hardly possible to take the assertion seriously. Isolated 
examples of fifths, intentional or accidental, occur in the music 
of many a great classic ; and treatises declare them admissible in 
certain cases. The modern evolution of music has shown that they 
may have a value of their own not only as timbres and colour 
effects, but also by virtue of their particular volume and density, 
so to speak, which can be used for effects unattainable by any 
other means. 

This nobody could doubt after having heard, for instance, the 
opening of Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande. Mussorgsky is the first 
to have availed himself of the particular properties of fifths 
extensively and for a wide variety of purposes. A very fine example 
is the opening of 'Trepak' {Dances of Death) : 


t>(*4 J di S I \r f*ii J \ h J li JtjJ ^ 4v =^ 



a m 

Tout est si -len-ce 

les bois sont de-serts Et la nei-ge 





i iU^ 








■9- ^ 


- mi 


w^ n 




which suggests the dark, desolate, storm-swept plain; and is also, 
by the way, a striking instance of an opening out of the key, the 
song being in D minor. In the edition revised by Rimsky-Korsakof 
(the only one available until 1928) this was altered to: 


^l I i^IiSSl^ Su f 






-m ^ 






P-- — ^ 





m ¥^ 


which sounds, in comparison, deplorably feeble. An earlier 
instance of a more or less similar process, used for descriptive 
purposes in a song whose words likewise evoke, as it happens, 
wind and night, is: 


('Wild winds blowing') 

Fifths are freely used in church chants, archaic in character, that 
occur in Boris Godunof and Khovanshchina : 



and in Boris in association with the sinister figure of the fantastic 
schemer Rangoni: 





# — 0- 



Who to - day re-spects the church and pays it du - ty? 

I ^^7 j 


•>' f j t ^^g 

^ ^i iHr 



Ushering in the great monologue of Tsar Boris in its initial version, 
consecutive fifths again serve to express gloom: 


In the Chancellor's address to the people in the opening scene, 
there is an instance of fifths (between voice and clarinets unisoni 
and violas): ^^ gg 


which may be intentional or not, but whose sonority is wonder- 
fully beautiful. 

On the other hand, it is impossible to imagine a specific reason 
for the following instance of consecutive fifths and sevenths, in all 
likelihood unintentional : 


y r l|r 

f f f :t± 

t ^ K W K 


# P- 

Re- cord in full, a- toid-ing g^ile and mal - ice, 


p cresc. 



{Boris Godunof, p. 77) 


or to find any beauty in it. But, all told, Mussorgsky has given us 
countless examples of how to use fifths aptly, against a very few of 
how not to use them. 

Nowadays, of course, the question of principle no longer arises ; 
fifths have become part and parcel of the modern musical idiom. 
But, whereas they are a style-element in certain types of music, 
they stand out as a foreign body in the tissue of other types, 
exactly as, say, a bit of brushwork by Van Gogh would in a 
painting by Ingres. To judge such innovations sanely it is impera- 
tive to study them in their context, as they appear in Mussorgsky's 
music. And then it will be seen that they are not foreign bodies, 
impairing the general harmony of the tissue, but components 
of the basic structural scheme. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, 
it is impossible to alter them except for the worse — a point that 
was indicated in chapter XV. The same appHes with equal force 
to Mussorgsky's use of consecutive discords, false relations, and 
so on. There is no need to go into particulars again. Here is one 
instance of consecutive seconds and sevenths used for expressive 
purposes : 



(Sunless, No. 6, 'On the river') 
In the third act of Boris Godunof the following occurs : 



^ ^^ 

I I I ^r - rg 


You break my lov- ing heart, my hard and proud Ma- ri - na. 



This was probably deliberate, and is very effective. The use of 
sharp discords for the sake of emphasis, in comedy ( The Marriage^ 
end of scene 2, consecutive minor seconds) or drama: 

Ex.70 "^1, 



no ra - ven from Li - thu - a - nia wing his way. 


(coll 8va basso — strings and wind in seconds) 

betokens boldness, but certainly not clumsiness or lack of sense 
of fitness. 

It remains true that composers, bold or timid, may perpetrate 
consecutive fifths, sevenths, or ninths (but hardly seconds) un- 
wittingly; and also false relations. How many of Mussorgsky's 
false relations were intentional, and how many of those that were 
not are objectionable is a difficult problem. This one (Mussorgsky's 
use of the concatenation in which it occurs will be examined in 
the next chapter) : 










Trayer' (1865) 


is particularly felicitous. It also happens to be one of the kind that 

plays a characteristic part in the idiom of Gabriel Faure. 
Another, in all likelihood also deliberate, is : 

Ex.72 8va. 


in the Khovanshchina prelude. 



Rimsky-Korsakof, revising Mussorgsky's works, has dealt no 
less drastically with his false relations, real or imaginary, than 
with his consecutives and other alleged irregularities or faults. 
Yet even classical theory is more elastic on this point than on 
most others: "the rule", Parry remarks (in Grove's Dictionary), 
"is modified by so many exceptions that it is almost doubtful if 
the cases in which the effect is objectionable are not fewer than 
those in which it is not". In other words, the ear is the only 
competent tribunal. 

Undoubtedly, Mussorgsky's aural feehng and imagination were 
keen and sensitive: but there is no denying that they were not 
always on the alert, especially during the initial stages of work or 
during work at high speed. A few examples of extreme crudity 
and carelessness occur in his rough drafts and even in clear drafts 
which, on the strength of their history, may be regarded neither 
as first states nor as final states : for instance, in the vocal score of 
the initial version of Boris Godunof — which, it will be remembered, 
came before the full score. The worst of these is the following, 
from the St. Basil scene: 

Ex.73 ^, 


r f r tf 


us, g"ive. 


for_ Christ's sake! 

^i^'~r r 'T^^ 



^- ^ 3 ' 



for_- Christ's sake! 

ii p' i i^fiiQ' r^T*^ 


m m - 


In the full score, the corresponding passage bears no relation to 
this first form, and is simple and telling (vocal score, pp. 320-1). 
On the other hand, there is in the initial version of the scene in the 




cell a stretch of almost equally rough and meaningless music 
which he felt no call to alter when orchestrating it (vocal score, 
pp. 60-1, footnotes Nos. 15-16; full score, appendix No. 2, pp. 
161-3). It was only three years later, when composing the final 
version, that he re-wrote it. Whether all the alterations which he 
carried out himself, spontaneously or in deference to his advisers, 
were desirable and successful will always remain a moot point. 
It has been mentioned, for instance (in chapter IV), that 
Riesemann regards the tamer second version of 'King Saul' as an 
improvement. On the other hand, and apart from all questions of 
aesthetic judgment, all will agree that here and there in Mussorg- 
sky's works, and especially in his scoring, a few discreet, purely 
technical emendations would be all to the good. These, had he 
been so minded, he would have been quite capable of carrying 
out himself in the light of experience gained from hearing them 
performed, as far more expert composers often find it advisable 
to do. If he did not do so with Boris it was chiefly for the reason 
that, as already stated, he had lost interest in it soon after com- 
pleting the final version. 

Whatever the cause may be, there is no reason to suppose that 
he would have decided to alter any of the irregularities that were 
the outcome of his ellipses, short cuts, and bold plunges in medias 
res simply because current theory prohibited them. His propensity 
to think in terms of the moment was an essential part of his 
realistic procedure, and it accounts for many of the liberties he 
took with the grammar of his time. When he felt the need for this 
or that chord, accent, key, touch of colour, or pattern, he brought 
it in then and there, without boggling over details. His mistrust of 
transitions, preparations, and such like, served him well most of 
the time, but led him now and then to take heedless short cuts. 
Minor but characteristic instances are : 




9 \ y ^ f f f b* ~~* 

f — W 

r f r 'I' 

\^ V ^ 

If no spi - fit from hell 

whis-pers these won 

der ful 



Ai^^^.^,^,^,::^i_ ^r K lU^tfLX 

{Boris Godunof^ p. 261) 

and ib., p. 287, 11. 1-2, the G flat major triad attacked over an 
unprepared pedal-point on A flat directly after the G major triad. 

Other cases in point are consecutive octaves, fifths and discords 
which occur in his combinations of two melodic lines, especially 
when the one is a melodic pedal-point or ostinato (see next chapter, 
pp. 278-80). In this matter as in many others, he anticipated a 
modern practice which, as has been suggested,^^ may have been the 
origin of bitonal counterpoint. These consecutives at times make 
for hollowness and stiflfness : but even then, as often as not, listeners 
can take them in their stride exactly as Mussorgsky did. Some of 
them do seem to have just happened rather than to be the out- 
come of the composer's deliberate quest for a particular effect. 
But many are thoroughly in keeping with the general tone and 
character of the music in which they occur. 

All the above considerations should make it clear that there is 
no reason for us, when considering Mussorgsky's style, to be 
obsessed by the fear that many of the idiosyncrasies we are 
elevating to the dignity of style features may merely be the 
accidental outcome of imperfect knowledge or slipshod writing, 
any more than there would be to describe every one of them as a 
stroke of genius and an example for all to follow. So, no further 
reference to this question will be made in the present survey of 
these idiosyncrasies. 



Technique and Style (II) 

Relation of Mussorgsky s music to Russian folk-music — 
Modal, irregular, and variable scales — Metres and rhythms 
— Realism and music-shaping — Note-values and intervals — 
Syllabic and non-syllabic treatment — Scarcity of upbeats, 
feminine endings, and syncopation — Musical finger-prints — 
Interrelation of melody and harmony — Harmony : consecutives 
and discords — Appoggiaturas and pedal-points — Scarcity of 
suspensions — Polyphony — Cadences and modulations 

THE foregoing remarks show that Russian folk-music is the true 
prototype of Mussorgsky's. A few points of contact between his 
style and methods and those of other composers will presently be 
mentioned, but with Russian folk-music, the points of contact are 
countless. He used very few actual folk-tunes; and when he did 
use them, it was frankly in their original capacity as songs. The 
one from Riabinin's repertory quoted on p. 240 is an excellent 
instance of his way of using them. The only two noteworthy 
exceptions are the glorification hymn in the coronation scene in 
Boris (a traditional tune, which Beethoven had used in his Op. 
59, No. 2, and others employed after Mussorgsky — notably 
Rimsky-Korsakof in The Tsar's Bride) and the chorus *Hey, keep 
rising' in the revolution scene (on the theme of an old dance song) : 
both these are used as materials for working out — the latter with 
remarkable ingenuity and point. 

Another chorus in the revolution scene, "Tis no falcon proud', 
is a folk-song (No. 18 of Rimsky-Korsakof 's One Hundred Russian 
Folk-Songs) ; so is the little song 'Lurching along' sung by Varlaam 
in his cups (inn scene), originally a nuptial song, 'The Bells of 
Novgorod' (ib. No. 71), and cleverly diverted from its original 
character for a caricatural purpose. 

In Khovanshchina folk-tunes are even fewer. Apart from the 
one used as Marfa's love-song, there are only the three sung by 
Khovansky's serfs in Act iv. As for the instrumental works, none 
contains even part of a folk- tune, except 'Field Marshal Death' 
in which a Polish revolutionists' song is used for Death's apos- 



trophe,^® and possibly 'Kallistratushka' in which one tune may 
be, as averred by a few Russian critics, an echo of a folk-tune 
(Balakiref's collection. No. 30) also used by Rimsky-Korsakof 
for Tucha's song in The Maid of Pskof, 

One might more reasonably regard this one instance as an 
illustration of the fact that patterns and turns current in Russian 
folk-music occur everywhere in his music — which is quite natural. 
All that could be said on this matter is aptly summed up by 
Gerald Abraham* as follows: "He wrote in the folk-song idiom 
as naturally as Burns wrote in the Lowland Scottish dialect. 
Except for a few unfortunate trifles, the equivalent of Burns's 
English poetry, everything he wrote is in an idiom of which the 
only musical root is folk-song." 

In other words, Mussorgsky's melodies simply bear the same 
relation to Russian folk-tunes as Schubert's to German folk-tunes 
or Bellini's to Italian. There is no reason whatever to harp on the 
point, nor to indulge in laborious statistics and comparisons. 
After all, this is only one surface aspect of the question ; and it is 
the deeper layers that require exploring. 

First and foremost comes the matter of the modes. We have seen 
Mussorgsky using modal and variable scales now and then in his 
early songs, and freely in the music of his maturity. In the first 
version of 'Little Star' (1857) the vocal part is in F sharp aeolian, 
with variable notes in the accompaniment. Another significant 
example is 'The Peasant's Lullaby' in which he turns the modal 
features of the tune to account very much in the same spirit as he 
does in those of the Riabinin tune. The melody is in F aeolian — 
unquestionably so in the second version, and as definitely in the 
first, despite the occasionally intervening A natural and C flat. 
But the accompaniment, with the fifth B flat — F in the bass, 
suggests B flat dorian. In the final section, the tune is in F major, 
but on the same bass; and in the harmonies A flat and E flat 
alternate with A and E natural, adumbrating both B flat lydian 
and B flat mixolydian. 

The treatment of Xenia's lament in the initial version of Boris 
Godunof is particularly instructive. The first two bars of the tune 
are in E flat aeolian, the following in F aeolian (an excellent 
instance of a modulation to the upper second, second degree 

* In his Studies in Russian Music. The whole essay on the folk-song element in Russian 
music and on the difference between the natural use of such elements and the manu- 
facturing of synthetic folk-tunes is most illuminating. 



playing the part of the dominant, as in certain folk-songs — see 
foregoing chapter, p. 237). The conclusion reverts to the starting- 
point. Mussorgsky's method of harmonizing the melody consists 
in simply adding a second part, suggesting the harmony strongly 
enough to ensure stabihty without emphasizing its centre of 


The final cadence is to the tonic triad of A flat major. 

Each, stanza of the 'Kazan' song (inn scene) is in two sections : 
the first in F sharp dorian, and the second — after a chromatic 
transition — in E flat (enharmonically D sharp) mixolydian, which 
might also be B flat (or A sharp) aeolian, for the harmony does 
not definitely settle the matter. And the final cadence of each 
stanza is to the A flat major tonic triad, which is enharmonically 
interpreted as G sharp, second degree of F sharp, to which it 
leads back. 

Such cadences closely related to those that occur in folk-songs 
are, as much as the use of variable scales in the accompaniment, 
a favourite device of Mussorgsky's. In 'Kallistratushka', the open- 
ing section of melody is in F sharp aeolian, but with cadences to 
E, second degree: 



» d " 




Through my. 



tnemry there floats a era- die - song, 

Had not the instrumental introduction (on the F sharp aeolian 
scale, with B and D now natural, now sharp) firmly established 
F sharp as tonic, the tune would naturally be regarded as being in 
E mixolydian. The second cadence leads frankly to A major — 
via its dominant, the E triad. But at this point E sharp begins to 
creep in, conveying a flavour of F sharp minor. This key in turn 
is established for a while, and from its dominant, the C sharp 
major triad, passes on to B minor, but touches D major on the 
way. There are many other remarkable uses of variable scales 
and of temporary shifts in this song. 

These combinations of modal and tonal elements, these 



passings from modal to tonal, or from one mode to another, are 
perhaps the most significant idiosyncrasy of Mussorgsky's style. 
Nowhere do they result in lack of firmness and co-ordination, in 
the vacillation or blurring which the above descriptions — in 
which theoretical ambiguities are deliberately underlined — might 
suggest. His tonal and modal schemes may be impossible to 
define safely in terms of usual theory; but there is nothing elusive, 
ambiguous, or shaky about them. In fact, the tonal basis feels 
so firm that the discovery of devices which should make for insta- 
bility will often come as a surprise to analysts. This music embodies 
the genre omnitonique foretold by Liszt, but in a form depending 
upon the fundamental properties of Mussorgsky's ideas, melodic 
and harmonic, rather than upon the artifices by means of which 
his Western contemporaries were extending the boundaries of the 
major-minor system. 

All the irregular metres and rhythmic schemes of Russian 
folk-tunes reappear in Mussorgsky's music, enabling him to 
keep, most of the time, remarkably close to those of human 
speech; and, in the instrumental works, to those of human gestures 
and motion generally. It has been alleged that practically all his 
metric and rhythmic innovations were simply more or less slavish 
imitations of the metres and rhythms of Russian verse. The 
allegation may seem plausible, considering the instances of 
strictly syllabic treatment that occur in his works, but there is no 
dearth of evidence to the contrary. For instance, the poem (by 
Nekrassof) of 'Yeremushka's Lullaby' is all in enneasyllabic and 
heptasyllabic lines in regular alternations: but the treatment is 
not syllabic, and the time-signature is 6/4 with occasional 3/4. 
Changes of metre and rhythm occur even in his early songs, not 
necessarily for prosodic or pantomimic reasons. For instance, 
in 'The wild winds blowing' 6/4 and 4/4 alternate for purely 
musical reasons, as made clear by the fact that in this song he 
often uses several notes to a syllable. The same is true of the 
changes in 'Kallistratushka' — notably 7/4,4/4,3/2 (see Ex. 76). 

'The Banquet' is in 3/2 + 5/4 time. The treatment is syllabic 
throughout (the lines of the poem being hendecasyllabic) except 
that once two notes are given to one syllable, an extra 3/2 bar 
breaking the regularity of the alternation. And at one point a 
minim is used to stress an accent; all the rest is in crotchets. 

In 'The Ragamuffin', the lines are mostly pentasyllable. But 
Mussorgsky introduces 6/4 and 3/2 bars between the 5/4 bars, 



in order to achieve changes of tone and pace. And a moment 
comes when the scheme suddenly broadens for a while, the 
melody proceeding in minims, with the time-signature 3/1, to 
mark a change of tone in the ragamuffin's tauqts. 

Another purely realistic, and very telling, effect is achieved in 
'Savishna' by the use of quintuple time, the lines of the poem 
being pentasyllable, and crotchet following crotchet in 5/4 
without ever a change or a break, graphically representing the 
monotony and breathlessness of the simpleton's pathetic implora- 
tion to the girl he loves in vain. Here the musical rhythm is an 
exact — one might say an almost slavish — equivalent of the poetic 
rhythm. But the words being (like those of 'The Ragamuffin') 
by Mussorgsky, poem and music may be regarded as the outcome 
of one imaginative operation. 

A comparison with the first song in The Nursery^ 'With Nanny', 
is instructive. The words, again, are by Mussorgsky; and it is 
most unlikely that he thought them and the music out jointly. 
This little song, in which the time-signature changes twenty-five 
times in the course of fifty-five bars, according to the character 
of each sentence, had become famous long before anybody had 
started studying Mussorgsky!s technique, its anomaly rather than 
its value for students of Mussorgsky's methods having attracted 
attention. The signatures used are 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 6/4, and 7/4. A 
few of the changes might have been avoided by discreet recourse to 
pauses. Mussorgsky preferred to indicate the exact duration of 
each rest. He also gave much thought to minute differentiation 
of introduction and pace, and especially to the contrasts between 
the child's moods of excitement or dreaminess as he asks his nurse 
to tell him a story and starts remembering all the wonderful 
episodes he hopes to hear again. It is an example of very subtle 

The chorus of imploration in the first scene in Boris Godunof, 
in which 3/4 and 5/4 alternate irregularly, represents the people 
clamouring under compulsion, perfunctorily, without knowing 
what it is all about. The required effect is achieved by the character 
of the music, not by any realistic imitation of mechanical patter; 
for instance, by the woodenness of plaints such as : 

Ex.77 fffl==^ === :=— Shri^^^ 

»hl AM 



Apart from that, Mussorgsky has devised the melody of this 
chorus exactly as he would that of a purely lyrical song, paying 
due attention to shapeliness of line while skilfully calculating 
pace, accents, and punctuation. 

In 'Trepak' {Songs and Dances of Death) the time frequently 
changes from 4/4 to 3/2 and back, always for reasons of pace. 
Rimsky-Korsakof did away with these changes, without any 
conceivable justification. 

Fewer significant examples occur in the instrumental works, 
the Pictures from an Exhibition excepted. In this set, the alternation 
of 6/4 and 5/4 in 'Promenade' obviously has a realistic purpose. 
"Mussorgsky", Stassof says (no doubt on the strength of first-hand 
information), "has represented himself roving right and left now 
desultorily, now briskly, in order to get near the pictures that 
had caught his attention." And there is no mistaking the panto- 
mimic purpose of the changes in 'Gnomes'. 

It seems hardly necessary to add that Mussorgsky was perfectly 
capable of achieving suppleness and variety without resorting to 
any such devices. A case in point, among many, is the delightful 
little prelude to the second act of Khovanshchina (it bears, as it 
happens, a striking resemblance to 'Promenade'). Others are the 
song-set Sunless'^ and — to quote an example of realistically carried 
out dialogue — 'Death's Lullaby'. Of the initial version of the 
second act oi Boris, nearly half (from the words: "I knew not that 
you had heard", vocal score, p. 140) is in 4/4 except for one 2/4 
bar (p. 154). In the earlier portion of the act, only three signatures 
— 6/4, 4/4, and 3/4 — are used, with ten changes in all. In The 
Marriage, too, the changes are remarkably few in number; and 
only 4/4, 3/4 and 2/4 are used. 

Considering the exemplary suppleness and diversity of Mussorg- 
sky's melody, and his readiness to resort to changes of time, it is 
interesting to note that he seldom uses long note-values in his 
vocal parts, and is usually content with a small number of note- 
values. Long values are more frequent in his early music than in 
that of his maturity. Yet Salammbo's prayer (Act ii — 1864) 
may be selected as a typical example of economy, the values 
ranging from minim to semiquaver only. In 'The wild winds 
blowing' nine different values occur — from J^^Jto J. The only 
other song of his in which as many are to be found is 'Sphinx' ; 
eight occur in ^Serenade' and 'Field Marshal Death'. 'Savishna' 
and 'The Banquet' illustrate the other extreme. In 'With Nanny' 



practically all the work is done by crotchets; but there are a few 
dotted crotchets followed by quavers, two minims, and one dotted 
minim. Marfa's incantation in Khovanshchina consists almost 
entirely of crotchets and quavers. Only three values are used in 
*Gathering Mushrooms' and 'Hopak'. In short, it may be said 
that in the great majority of cases Mussorgsky restricts himself to 
the range from dotted crotchet to semiquaver, with occasional 
triplets. In The Marriage, for instance, there are only three instances 
of longer values. In the whole part of Tsar Boris, in the initial 
version, we find only ten minims (six of which are in his dying 
speech), one dotted minim, and one minim tied to a quaver. 
In the final version, the great monologue contains eight minims, 
but nothing longer. 

All this conforms both to the example set by Russian folk-music 
and to the minimum-of-stylization principle — the intention to 
keep close to the pace and character of speech. So it is natural that 
Mussorgsky should proceed thus in his realistic music, but more 
remarkable that he should be almost equally economical in 
moments of purely lyrical expansion : for instance, in Salammbo's 
prayer, and Boris's monologue in its second [arioso) form, Marfa's 
incantation, the love-duet in Boris, and Sunless (there are only 
four values in 'On the River'). 

The same economy is noticeable in many instrumental ideas: 
the Tromenade' is all in crotchets and quavers. Most of the main 
themes in Boris (notably the Boris, Pimen and Shuisky themes) 
consist of not more than three values. So do those in The Marriage, 
and both the Khovansky themes. Their brevity, of course, makes 
the fact less striking, but, taken in conjunction with the rest, it is 
worth noting. 

Mussorgsky's melody usually proceeds in modulations rather 
than by continuous motion in one direction. It consists, as a rule, 
of small or moderate intervals, with hardly ever a big leap. For 
instance, most of his themes occupy a small compass, generally a 
sixth at most. Although in his vocal music he often uses the 
extreme registers of the voice and passes freely from one to another 
(but always in order to secure a definite colour or degree of tension 
or relaxation) , his phrases contain but few leaps of a seventh or 
more. And most of those that occur have an obvious specific 
purpose — the noting of a natural change of intonation under the 
stress of excitement [Boris, p. 199: "Nanny was most incensed"); 
of deep emotion (ib., p. 70: "Killed our lawful Tsar"; p. 132: 



"My people die of hunger") ; or of the effort to impress and 
persuade (ib., p. 217: "By the cross I now adjure you"; p. 266: 
"Call upon you by your oath"). Sometimes they are used for 
comic effects — realism tinged with caricature: 


>j=^cy- \ i }^ 


No, he spoke no sin-gle word? 

{The Marriage^ scene I)* 

Examples of big leaps for melody-shaping purposes (a specifica- 
tion which need not imply that the melody referred to is in- 
adequately expressive) are few. The octaves at the end of phrases 
in the second form of Tsar Boris's monologue (vocal score, pp. 
187-8) and the Pretender's "see me on my bended knees" (ib., 
p. 294) may be adduced as instances of this type. 

Here again, Mussorgsky's practice in lyrical music does not 
differ to any great extent from his practice in recitative, ordinary 
dialogue, or non-lyrical music generally. Still, whereas the distinc- 
tion stressed by Rimsky-Korsakof^^ between his 'idealistic' and 
his 'realistic' style can serve no critical purpose, it is useful to 
discriminate between his lyrical and his non-lyrical style. There 
was in him a strong inborn strain of lyricism ; and this is the chief 
reason for the fundamental dissimilarity between his art and 

The difference is especially striking in the matter of recitative. 
Mussorgsky's is genuinely melodic, fluid and original. It moves 
freely and appears thoroughly natural and spontaneous. Dargo- 
myjsky's, despite its admirably calculated adjustment to the 
words, consists of far more conventional patterns, with more or 
less conventional accents in the instrumental accompaniment, 
and also conventional cadences. When it becomes more melodic, 
it often seems to consist of snatches from a song or from an instru- 
mental episode. Mussorgsky never dangles between song-style 
and recitative. His free declamation is always as melodic as 
compatible with his ideal of characterization — of 'truth before 
beauty'. When he feels that more lyrical melody is called for than 
could naturally arise in the vocal part, he entrusts it to the 

* Here Mussorgsky also gives for the sake of caricatural emphasis — the second 
syllable of the text (the Russian has 'Nitchevo') a false quantity, a device of which 
few other instances, if any, occur in his output) . 



accompanying instruments. This is what invariably happens with 
the lovely motive of Boris's love for his daughter. 

Still, the distinction is helpful to students, whom it enables to 
see the moments when realistic methods creep in. The basic fact 
is that whereas in non-lyrical melodic passages it is often possible 
to understand why he has used or avoided this or that process, in 
purely lyrical passages — whose effect depends exclusively on that 
ever mysterious property of music, expressiveness — it is usually 
impossible to explain the part played by such elements as rise and 
fall, spacing, pace, and so on : one can only feel. 

For instance, when he uses several notes to a syllable, his reasons 
for so doing are often obvious. It may be simply to achieve the 
graphic equivalent of an intonation, as with interjections (e.g., 
Boris, p. 140: "What?") and it may be — but very seldom — to 
achieve pathetic expression. Pantomimic suggestion may be 
aimed at. A character's voice may become tremulous with fear: 


tor — tured 

Or an irresistible tendency to wax lyrical may be a character- 
feature, justifying a liberal use of the device; as with Andrei 
Khovansky. Not so, however, with the nurse in Boris, although in 
her chatter with the children many patterns occur that might 
have come straight from folk-songs — a very apt method of 
characterization . 

For melody-shaping purposes Mussorgsky uses it comparatively 
freely in song pure and simple, in choruses, and often to' ensure 
accurate repetition of a pattern: e.g. in Sunless, No. 3, the Andante; 
in the lyrical outburst of Rangoni urging Marina to fascinate the 
Pretender {Boris, pp. 249, 260, etc.) ; and in Dosifei's objurgation 
to Suzanna {Khovanshchina, p. 208): 



riJ J i <'Mr riiJ ^ 




at — tempi — ted. 

in which dramatic emphasis is achieved by fourfold repetition 
of the pattern — a process to which Mussorgsky very seldom resorts. 
When in his dramatic music he gives more than one note to a 



syllable for melody-shaping, not directly realistic, reasons, it is 
almost invariably in pregnant designs, playing an outstanding 
part. Among the few exceptions, this example of looseness from 
Boris (p. 290) : 

Ex.81* , ,_. __ . ,—r-. . r— . 



em bra - ces and pas - sion - ate kis • ses, 

may be mentioned. When a theme or leitmotive first conceived as 
an instrumental pattern (like the Dimitri motive or the main theme 
in 'Trepak'), and containing grace-notes, is given to the voice, the 
grace-notes are preserved, even at the cost of giving more than one 
note to an insignificant syllable (such as the conjunction 'and' — 
Boris Godunof, p. 219). Otherwise, Mussorgsky hardly ever uses 
ornaments as additional notes to a syllable when his purpose is 
dramatic, rather than lyrical, expression. An exception, maybe 
the only one of its kind, occurs in Rangoni's admonitions to 
Marina : 








thor of ev 

Spread-ing- his wings, from Ge- hen - na 

But even this is in a pattern previously given out in the orchestra. 
When at work on the last act of Khovanshchina, however, he started 
experimenting with the use of ornaments for dramatic expression 
(pp. 315-6 in the accompaniment, and 335 in the voice). The most 
typical examples of lyrical ornamental passages are in 'Little 
Star' (first version), 'Wild winds blowing', 'On the Dnieper', and 
'Jewish Song'. In conjunction with this point, it may be noted that 
he seldom resorts to repetition of words, either for emphasis or for 
melody-building purposes. Most of the few exceptions occur in his 
early songs or in the burdens of songs in set form — except, of 
course, where the texts he used contained repeated words. 

The distinctions just drawn between instrumentally conceived 
and vocally conceived designs are not always easy to substantiate. 
Even Wagner's Siegfried motive, although decidedly instrumental 
in character, may have been conceived vocally, since it first appears 
in the voice {Die Walkiire, Act ii: "den heersten Helde der Welt" 

* The Russian text has the word 'and' at the same spot. 



— the argument, of course, is far from clinching). Still it should be 
fairly clear that most of the main themes in Mussorgsky's dramatic 
music, even those that are not of the pantomimic order, were con- 
ceived in instrumental, and not vocal, terms : the themes relating 
to Tsar Boris, for instance, and also the Dimitri, Pimen, and 
Khovansky themes. Of these, only the Dimitri theme, and (but 
only in the initial version of the great monologue) the 'anger' 
theme of Boris (Ex. 27, supra) ^ ever appear in full in the voice. 
In the instrumental works, the themes of 'Promenade', 'Gnomes', 
'Aux Tuileries' and so on are obviously instrumental, but the two 
used in 'Bydlo' are song-tunes, as are the themes of the Boris, 
Khovanshchina, and Sorotchintsi Fair preludes. The reason for drawing 
the distinction is that the instrumentally conceived themes are 
utterly simple, restricted in compass, and consist of the plainest 
intervals, invariably diatonic except for a few themes of the 
picturesque order such as those of 'Gnomes' and 'Baba Yaga' — 
the only order of themes, too, in which changes of metre occur. 
Another noteworthy feature is that very few begin with an upbeat. 
In The Marriage and Boris Godunof, the exceptions are so few as to 
be negligible. In Khovanshchina, only two important themes start 
with an upbeat. The 'Promenade' in Pictures from an Exhibition 
begins with a two-note upbeat, although the writing does not 
show it. And upbeats occur now and then at the beginning of 
vocally conceived themes such as those of The Sorotchintsi Fair 
and 'II Vecchio Castello'. But when Mussorgsky wishes to give an 
impetus to the beginning of a phrase, he prefers to do so by means 
of an appoggiatura on the down-beat. This disinclination to start 
with an upbeat is a marked idiosyncrasy, for the use of the device 
is common in the music of all times and countries. It shows how 
important it is, when studying his melody, to find out which 
elements in it are traceable to the influence of prosody and 
parlance. As mentioned a while ago, poetic metres, and also 
sometimes the structure of the stanzas (a factor which helped to 
determine the changes of pace in 'Trepak') have to be taken into 
account. Prosody determines, as it always should do, whether 
vocal phrases should start with an upbeat or not, and whether they 
should have a feminine or a masculine ending. Feminine endings 
are another device which Mussorgsky is not inclined to use. A 
predominance of masculine endings is noticeable in all kinds of 
music old and modern — this for many obvious reasons, one of the 
most important being the nature of the full close. But there are 



few composers, if any, who use feminine endings so seldom as 
Mussorgsky does. And even when, in vocal phrases, a feminine 
ending is unavoidable, he seldom emphasizes it by entrusting a 
suspension or an appoggiatura to the voice, but prefers to give the 
voice a Veal' harmonic note (and indeed, a repetition of one note 
rather than a rise or fall), and entrusts the suspension or appog- 
giatura to the instrumental accompaniment — as often as not, in 
the inner parts. (Exceptions are more numerous in the Songs and 
Dances of Death and Sunless than in any other work of his.) Only in 
one song, 'The Magpie', does he use extensively, for melody-shaping 
purposes, feminine endings not suggested by the verbal prosody; 
at bars 7, 11, 19, 25, 27, etc. the lines of the text having masculine 
endings. Another device to which he resorts very seldom is synco- 
pation. Practically all exceptions occur in stretches of music in 
variation form: the 'Kazan' and 'Parrot' songs in Boris, Marfa's 
love-song, Kuzka's song, and the Persian Dances in Khovanshchina, 
among others. Syncopation is used very effectively in the maidens' 
chorus in Act iii of Boris; and also, to express perturbation, in the 
panic scene at the end of Act iii of Khovanshchina. This scarcity of 
syncopated rhythms is as peculiar a style-feature as the scarcity 
of feminine endings. No possible explanation of it occurs to the 
mind, except the perfectly simple one that he happened not to 
incline by nature to think in terms of such rhythms. The use of 
them is perfectly consistent with realistic aims and even with the 
minimum-of-stylization principle — which is not equally true of 
feminine endings, for these may easily become over-effusive and 
fulsome. (This might very well be one of the reasons why Mussorg- 
sky is so chary of emphasizing them when he has to use them.) 

As regards feminine endings, the question of parlance is im- 
portant too. Endings such as those quoted in examples 102, 132, 
133, and their feminine equivalents, which abound in his music 
(and also occur in Dargomyjsky's), are thoroughly characteristic 
of Russian speech. It is interesting to note that with Debussy 
they made their appearance in French music. They may be 
regarded — to borrow an expression invented by Ernest Newman — 
as one of Mussorgsky's finger-prints. 

In connection with this question of finger-prints, it may be 
recalled that it has been averred^^ that "Mussorgsky had never 
associated two notes by force of habit". At an interval of over 
thirty years, the writer responsible for this sweeping assertion 
believes that it requires but a few trifling qualifications. There are 



a small number of recognizable finger-prints in Mussorgsky's 
music. Lapshin^^ was the first to call attention to certain of these, 
notably one which consists of two descending thirds, fourths, or 
fifths, in arrangements such as the following: 



' J 1 J 1^ J J i t^ Ui 

Patterns of this kind, common in the vernacular music, occur 
in hundreds in Mussorgsky's works, earnest or humorous, vocal 
or instrumental. The fourth followed by the third is freely used as 
phrase-ending in the great scene between Golitsyn, Khovansky, 
and Dosifei [Khovanshchina^ Act ii) in all three vocal parts; two 
thirds appear in 'The Magpie', but also at one of the fiercest 
moments in the revolution music in Boris (pp. 389 flf.). So, to 
associate the pattern with any particular expressive purpose is 
out of the question. 

It is usually dangerous, and it may often be puerile, to attempt 
to do anything of the kind. Noticing that the design consisting of a 
falling fourth and a return to the starting-point, which is common 
in music of all schools and ages, but happens to be rare in Mussorg- 
sky's, occurs several times in conjunction with the ideas of God's 
power or wrath, death, life after death, supernatural phenomena 
or forces, Lapshin ventured to suggest, giving eight examples in 
support of the suggestion, that it had a special significance for 
him and that he never used it except with these particular associa- 
tions. But he overlooked the fact that it also occurs in Boris at a 
spot where the words are "Oh, if you loved her truly, and knew 
how much she suffers!" (p. 285), and in Khovanshchina, pp. 21 
("All's in order . . . Carry on!") ; 1 18 ("Shall I trust the woman's 
oath?"); 161 ("Is this how we serve Russia?"); 263 ("There is no 
joy in Russia nowadays!") ; 283 ("We have served the Empress") ; 
and 175 ("Please behave while you are in my house"). In short, it 
is impossible to draw any conclusion. 

The same is true of more out-of-the-way patterns, or patterns 
containing less usual intervals. A few instances of augmented 
seconds in Boris will suffice to illustrate the points, this interval 
being used for expressive purposes (pp. 142, 1. 2; 153, 1. 2; 
154, 1. 4; 190, 1. I ; 262, 1. 4; 341, last line — in an altered form of 
the 'anger' motive, etc.) and also for melody-shaping purposes 



(pp. 241, 1. 3; 272, 1. I, etc.), but sometimes because of the 
harmonic scheme (pp. 67, 1. 2; 72, 1. 3; 259, 1. 3, etc.). Fuller 
statistics would confirm the fact that Mussorgsky had no set way 
of using any pattern, interval, or other device whatsoever. 

There are, however, a few instances of similar musical ideas 
occurring to him more than once : 


('Death's Lullaby'— April 1875) 


Does this mean a dread-ful fate m store for me? 

{Khovanshchina, Act ii — August 1875) 

In both cases the pattern occurs in association with the idea of 
impending doom. Turns more or less similar to the Dimitri motive 
occur in various works — a fact that justifies, up to a point, the 
suspicion that even in Boris, some of the patterns that seem 
reminiscent of it were not meant to suggest the association. The 
resemblance between the opening of 'Wild winds blowing' (1864) 
and the theme of the chorus 'Ever rising, ever spreading' in the 
revolution scene in Boris (1872) is striking. It sometimes happened 
that the metre of Russian verse suggested to him the same pattern 
in dissimilar circumstances : 




1^-= ^ 

I t p ut* 

f F 


The sub • tie lure of love may tempt our souls, 

{Boris Godunof, p. 65) 


'hK i r 

^ \f \f /lt# u i * =g 

You aev = er cease to mourn him who is dead. 

(ib., p. 126) 





There goes he to his pre - ap-poirit-ed doom_ 

{Khovanshchina, p. 291) 

Other cases in point are the identity of pattern in Grigory's 
exclamation "how fully you have lived them!" {Boris, p. 63) 
and Feodor's "The map of all Moscovia!" (ib., p. 128) — this is 
accountable in a measure, because both express an exciting 
thought; of harmonic pattern (a modal cadence) under Boris's 
words "was found in Uglitch lifeless" (p. 147) and "your wisdom 
would not fail me" (p. 315). But fewer instances occur in his 
music than in that of any other composer; and these would 
probably escape notice were it not that the patterns are distinctive, 
not trite ones. 

Another interesting finger-print is the rise or fall of a semitone, 
used most effectively for changes of intonation or colour. It often 
occurs at an ending but also in the course of phrases, not un- 
commonly suggesting the influence of a variable scale. 

It may be determined by a design in the accompaniment, as 
here, the orchestra giving out the theme of the polonaise : 

%'l>.''ut r't rt k i ct'c t^t m 


Keep back or you'll be seen! A crowd of guests this way are com- ing'. 












or by the harmony — often a concatenation of two chords at an 
interval of a third. No instance of this rise or fall occurs in an 
instrumentally conceived pattern. 

Again the question arises of the interrelation of melody and 
harmony. Whether the two were conceived together is an interest- 
ing point, especially when the harmony is novel and significant. 
We know that many of Mussorgsky's melodies suggest none of the 
customary harmonizations of major-minor music; we shall see 
that others lend themselves to a variety of harmonizations. And 



his treatment of the Riabinin song (Ex. 50, supra) shows that he 
was well capable of providing an independently conceived melody 
with an ingeniously devised harmonization that seems its natural 
and inevitable complement. So the question is not always easy to 
answer. The few available sketches provide Httle enUghtenment. 
When a final version differs markedly from a preliminary version, 
the changes usually affect both harmony and melody (see text 
and footnotes in Boris, pp. 59-62, 320-1, etc.). So, in most cases, 
the melodic and the harmonic invention must have been inter- 
dependent, as is only natural. In a few special cases, it is reasonable 
to admit, without the help of collateral evidence, that when a 
melody (either declamation or song) obviously plays the essential 
part, it must have been thought out first, as in the Marriage — • 
Mussorgsky feeling the while that at certain points special harmonic 
effects should come in. This should be true, too, of songs such as 
*Savishna' and most of the Nursery set. But when the main sig- 
nificance lies in the harmony, no doubt the contrary occurred. 
Cases in point are the famous passage in the third song in Sunless 
whose harmonies made so strong an impression upon Debussy 
that he used them, almost textually, twice (in 'Nuages' and in 
Pelleas et Me'lisande, Act ii. scene 3) : 



The dead by 


at work 


p ' ''f f 'f ^fk 

col 8va bassa 

and in 'Night' — the main melody being in the piano part : 




He resorts freely to complex harmonies, many of which were 
unusual in his time: to seconds, sevenths, ninths, elevenths and 
so on, with or without pedal-points or alterations. He often 
dispenses with the traditional preparations, and resolutions. 
As already shown, he derives many novel and forcible effects 
from plain triads — using them, at times, felicitously at points 
where many a composer would have introduced a discord. There 
are examples of discords in his rough drafts being, on second 
thought, replaced by triads: compare, for instance, the last line 
of the sketch in Boris Godunof, vocal score, p. 6i, with the cor- 
responding line of the text. Changes of this kind are very different 
in spirit from the changes in the second version of 'Saul' which 
appreciably altered the tone and character of the whole composi- 
tion (see chapter IV, pp. 53-4), or from those in the chorus in 
the St. Basil scene in Boris. They are interesting simply because 
they show that he had no blind partiality for dissonance. 

As soon as we begin to study his use of discords, the distinction 
between his lyrical and his non-lyrical style crops up again. 
Discords, in the classical major-minor system, were uniformly 
used to suggest tension and motion. Many of the simpler and 
more commonly used gradually lost their power to suggest either, 
and came to be treated more or less as consonances, preparation 
(and also, in a measure, resolution) being dispensed with. In other 
words : with the extension and loosening of the tonality bond, the 
feeling developed that they could be used for other purposes. It is 
generally admitted by now that they can be either biting and 
perturbing, or mellow and satisfying; and that whether they are 
the one or the other depends upon the way in which they are 
introduced, and especially upon the context. Dyson in The New 
Music — a book in which Mussorgsky is not even mentioned — 
rightly remarks that "the story of the century between Beethoven 
and ourselves may, from the point of view of texture, be fairly 
said to hinge on the exploitation of chords as such. The use of 
chords striking in themselves or strange in their context, and the 
unexpected inferences or ambiguities of tonality and texture that 
such use involved became normal features in the technique of 

There is no need to dwell upon Mussorgsky's use of biting 
discords to suggest tension or perturbation. A more impor- 
tant point is that he was one of the very first to use discords 
freely for lyrical and poetic effects, when not seeking to suggest 



tension; and even at points of repose, as they have come to be 
used in our time. 

Twentieth-century composers having gone much farther than 
Mussorgsky in this respect, it has been argued that a valuable 
resource of musical art is lost when discords are treated as con- 
cords — for instance, in the all-dissonant schemes of Schonberg and 
Berg. The argument is fallacious. It ignores the fact, first made 
clear by Hugo Riemann, that in musical art, the notion and feeling 
of dissonance is, basically, not physical, but psychological ; that 
triads, although nominally consonances, may acquire all the 
essential properties of dissonances by virtue of the part they play 
within a tonal scheme — a fact, after all, of which anybody who 
has done elementary harmony exercises in triads without suspen- 
sions or passing-notes should be fully aware. It stands to reason, 
then, that the same kind of thing can happen in an all-dissonant 
scheme, certain chords generating tension, and others relaxation 
and repose (for instance, in Berg's Wozzeck — vocal score, p. 30, 
bar I, the first chord, which marks the end of a brief interlude) . 
Naturally, the use of unresolved discords may become as 
mechanical as the use of duly resolved ones. Ending on a seventh 
or ninth is, by now, as much a stereotype as the dominant-tonic 
full close introduced by the second inversion of the tonic triad : 
but this has nothing to do with Mussorgsky's use of the device.* 
Discords introduced as mere adornments, or added spice, were no 
part of his scheme of things. So when he ended a song or a scene 
on a discord, he had a specific reason for so doing. 

This, as often as not, was a more or less realistic intention : that, 
for instance, of suggesting suspense, non-fulfilment, mystery, an 
endless perspective gradually melting away in darkness. For a 
similar reason, Schumann ended his ballad (Op. 46, No. 3) on 
the dominant, as happens in Mussorgsky's 'The Orphan'. Later, 
endings on a discord came to be used without any such purpose 
(first act of Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande, Ravel's 'Jeux d'Eau' 
and 'Les Grands Vents', etc.) But with Mussorgsky, the impres- 
sion conveyed is rather that of the beginning of an unobtrusive 
cadence, the resolution being not uttered, but understood. Thus, 
at the end of 'The Harper's Song', after the tonic harmony, E flat 
minor triad, has been affirmed, the A flat triad creeps in beneath 

* One of the earliest examples of a song ending on a discord is the Shepherd's song 
in Gounod's Sapho (1851), which runs from end to end over a pedal-point in fifths, 
A-E-B, in imitation of a drone. 



it, suggesting an orthodox plagal cadence, subdominant to tonic, 
which remains unfinished. 'Forgotten' ends not on a discord, but 
on the first inversion of the tonic triad. This, in the foregoing 
stanzas, had been followed by the root positions : and so the mind 
instinctively completes the pattern. 

Similar, although slightly more explicit, is the end of the St. 
Basil scene in Boris (which in the final version becomes the end of 
the revolution scene, and of the whole work), a faintly outlined 
cadence consisting, to describe it roughly, of an F major triad 
followed by an unharmonized E suggesting the A minor triad. 
This, and also the end of the first scene in Boris — the tonic G 
sharp, unharmonized; the third, D sharp F sharp, and again the 
tonic — make the spirit of the device thoroughly clear. In the first 
act of Khovanshchina, the end on the repeated augmented fourth, 
F sharp C, standing for the strokes of a bell, simply shows 
Mussorgsky refraining from rounding off where to round off would 
serve no valuable purpose. The end of 'On the River'| (6'w;2/^i>y, 
No. 6) : 




J- — /^ - 





r— -r 

')^H\% wn^^^ 

a J <ahg=g J a 

J i - 

Sva bassa. 

deserves special notice. The song had begun with the chord G 
sharp, E sharp, G sharp, B, which remains the harmonic centre 
throughout. So, when reasserted in the last bars, it conveys an 
impression of finality, and no other chord could do the same. 

To consider the matter from a more general point of view, let it 
be remembered that the texture of Mussorgsky's music often 
being modal rather than tonal, there is no reason for him to affirm 
the tonic in the traditional way at the end of a piece any more than 
at the beginning. As already said, he succeeds nevertheless in 
achieving clarity and firmness as well as flexibility. Further re- 
marks on the subject will be made in the next chapter. 

A significant point is that he seldom resorts to neutral harmonies 
such as diminished sevenths and augmented fifths. Even so, a 



few instances of the hackneyed use of a diminished seventh as a 
transition or to mark a dramatic cHmax (for instance, at the 
moment when Ivan Khovansky is struck to death) occur in his 
music: but they are far fewer than in that of most of his con- 
temporaries. The whole-tone scale plays no great part in his 
vocabulary and syntax, although he sometimes introduces short 
stretches of it — usually four or five notes at most, and not in 
conjunction with whole-tone harmonies. Of the chords derived 
from this scale, alone the augmented sixth (not really neutral, 
since it amounts to a dominant seventh with lowered fifth) occurs 
fairly often. At times, however, he uses whole-tone formations, 
including augmented fifths, for the sake of their hollowness, 
starkness and pungency, as elsewhere he uses plain fifths now and 
then, as colours : 


Jn. J. r-^ J^ ;- 


but more often as accents: 


1>I > y y J ^=^ 

J r ' i r 'J a 

^r r ^ r 


laid traps for me and wrung from me my se - crets, 




and never for effects of ghtter such as were obtained by Wagner 
using them chromatically, and by later composers using them 
diatonically. He does not avail himself of the facilities they afford 
for harmonic pivotings. The following two-bar passage in Boris 
(vocal score, p. 6i) 






t V V ' ^ ^ ^ V V 


they jeered at me and taunt-ed. 

jj {t<»g* g < g *g 





is his nearest approach to Dargomyjsky's way of using them, in the 
final scene of The Stone Guest, to the exclusion of any other harmony. 
In short, with him, discords, however sharp and perturbing they 
may be, serve to establish tonal feeling and balance as understood 
by him. The study of his concatenations is particularly instructive 
in this respect. At first sight, it would appear that his procedure 
could be summed up in the one sentence: any chord can follow 
any other in any conceivable way (or, as will presently appear, 
any key). This sounds like anarchy pure and simple. But once 
again, he was not an anarchist revelling in egregious devices in 
order to be original and startling at all costs. Nor was he con- 
cerned, like Janacek, with "investigating the manifold mysteries 
of harmonic concatenations" with the deliberate purpose of finding 
a use for every one of them. The notion of elaboration was as alien 
and hateful to him as that of simplicity achieved by means of 
over-stylization, or the quest of beauty for beauty's sake. He was 
guided neither by rules nor by the desire to transgress rules. He 
went by his sense of fitness, helped by a discriminating ear; so 
much so that, as often as not, it is the reading eye and analysing 
mind, rather than the listening ear, that perceives the anomalies 
and clashes. 

Instances of his unusual concatenations have already been 
mentioned. The one in Ex. 71 supra is worth considering awhile. 
It is, in theory, the boldest and most objectionable of all and a 
perfect illustration of the false relation of tritone, the diabolus in 
musica of olden times, with chromatic false relation and consecutive 
octaves to boot. It has a curious history. A distant precedent to 
its appearance in modern music may be found in a time-honoured 
pathetic cadence, to the survival of which these chords in Wagner's 
Siegfried (Act i, beginning of scene 2) : 









testify. It may also be regarded as an extension of the switching 
from a dominant seventh to another at an augmented fourth's 
interval, with which it has two notes in common, illustrated in 
Ex. 48 supra — a process commented upon by Dyson (op. cit.). 
But the earliest example of its use is to be found in all likelihood 
in a famous passage in Berlioz's Sytnplionie fantastique, in which it 
comes as a mere picturesque touch. Mussorgsky availed himself 
of it now and then (see Boris, p. 137, 1. 3: F sharp and C triads; 
p. 287, 11. 1-2, C and G flat triads, the second over an unprepared 
pedal-point in A flat; Khovanshchina, p. 281, 1. 3, A flat and D 
minor triads). Acclimatizations followed slowly. There is an 
instance often quoted in Debussy's Pelleas, Act iii. scene i ("je ne 
vois plus le ciel a travers tes cheveux"). And a time was to come 
when this same relationship was to become the structural basis of 
a symphonic movement (the 'Engel-Konzert' in Hindemith's 
Mathis der Maler). Mussorgsky, as a rule, prefers to use diatonic 
concatenations even when the melody is chromatic; but he has 
given us many examples of ingenious and telling chromatic 
harmonies. Noteworthy ones are, for instance: 



I •> X -' z •< z 




the latter a contraction of the harmonics quoted in Ex. 107 which 
occur in the song earher. There are one or two instances of 
chromaticism of a Wagnerian type in the initial version of the 
hallucination scene in Boris (pp. 152, 1. i, and 155, 11. 3-4) but 
these stand out as exceptions. 

The following harmonies in Khovanshchina{p. 136): 





= ^j = ^ 







are curious rather than impressive. Mussorgsky never scored the 
passage: so it should perhaps be regarded as a first state, as the 
indication of an effect intended rather than achieved. This is all 
the more to be regretted for the reason that it is the only instance 
in his dramatic scores of his relying on instrumental music at a 
crucial moment. 

He resorts to passing-notes, appoggiaturas and pedal-points 
freely, but to suspensions sparsely, and to anticipations very 
seldom ; especially so in the melodic line and in forms that are, as 
often as not, mere rhetorical stereotypes aiming at pathetic empha- 
sis, and at endings, including even cadences and semi-cadential 
feminine endings. It is characteristic of his disdain for such facile 
effects that when suspensions occur, they should usually be in the 
instrumental accompaniment, and indeed in an inner part, and 
not in the voice or the instrumental|melody : 

how ful - ly you have lived them: 

This is true of appoggiaturas : 


{Boris Godunof, p. 63) 



(ib., p. 179) 


-y— r 


: \ f ;\i' ^ r ^ 

I fear your high dis-plea - sure 

(ib, p. 218) 

In the latter example, a subtle effect of intonation is achieved 
through the double appoggiatura : the passage is a great improve- 
ment on the corresponding one in the initial version (vocal score, 
p. 149) in which there is no appoggiatura. Conversely, it happens 
that doing away on second thought with an appoggiatura consti- 
tutes an improvement {Boris, p. 62. compare text with footnote). 
He sometimes uses an instrumental appoggiatura at the beginning 
of a phrase in order to secure an impetus such as might be secured 
by an upbeat if the prosody called for one: 



('Death's Lullaby') 



He uses it in final cadences (for instance Sunless, Nos. i, 2, 5; 
'Wild winds blowing', etc.) It is the only harmonic artifice 
(passing-notes excepted, of course) that occurs in his themes : in 
the 'love for Feodor' theme, the first and third notes lend them- 
selves to treatment as appoggiaturas ; the last note in Tsar Boris's 
'anger' theme is an appoggiatura. 

Examples of appoggiaturas in the vocal part occur, of course. 
They are particularly numerous in 'Sphinx', the Dances of Death 
and Sunless. 

As already mentioned, many notes in his harmonies can be 
regarded as unresolved or irregularly resolved appoggiaturas, 
but the point is of no interest except to analysts concerned with 
explaining his irregularities away. It might, of course, serve to 
illustrate the part played by ellipses in Mussorgsky's style: but 
plenty of more significant illustrations are available. 

Pedal-points have been a favourite device with the Russians 
from Glinka onwards. Mussorgsky uses them freely and felici- 
tously, simple, multiple (at times unusual intervals, not excluding 
seconds), prepared and unprepared, in the bass, the upper or the 
inner parts. Here^are a few examples : 


{Boris Godunofy p. 66) 

Unprepared second inversion; as in the following: 







(ib., p. 231) 

Here is a pedal-point in fourths : 




^ ^ 

(ib., p. 237) 

His harmonics not always being definable in terms of scholastic 
nomenclature, the question whether examples such as this last 
had better be described as "a melody moving against a sustained 
harmony" need not arise. The unprepared A pedal-point in 
Ex. 97 supra is typical. Many of Mussorgsky's sharpest clashes 
are the outcome of the impact of a melody or harmony upon a 

The whole of 'On the River' (see Ex. 68 and 92) is over a 
pedal-point C sharp, plain at first, then figured, B sharp alter- 
nating with it in regular undulations. Elsewhere, very brief 
holding-notes, often in quick succession, are used to excellent 

Another device of his sets a difficult problem of nomenclature. 
Modern composers often resort to melodic pedal-points: that is, 
more or less well-defined melodic patterns treated as holding- 
notes pure and simple, but dififerent from the florid or figured 
pedal-point of classical usage in that they violate the school rule 
that "such pedal-points should suggest no harmony in them- 
selves". The figured pedal-point in Sunless, No. 6, conforms to 
this rule. So does this one, at the opening of the revolution scene 
in Boris'. 

Ex. 107 

But the modern melodic pedal-point is unquestionably prefigured 
in passages such as, for instance, in the Boris Godunof prelude 
(p. I, last line and p. 2, 11. 1-2), the figure in semiquavers over the 
main theme in the bass. Most examples that might be adduced 



are very short; and not only this shortness, but also the extreme 
simplicity of the texture (consisting, as a rule, of two parts only) 
may be sufficient reason for hesitating to consider them as genuine 
melodic pedal-points. Modern theorists, it is true (and notably 
Rene Lenormand and Charles Koechlin) accept the notion of 
very short melodic pedal-points, whose design, moreover, may 
vary within limits as they are repeated : still it is more in keeping 
with the usual terminology to regard such combinations as 
polyphonic in an elementary way and not properly harmonic. 
One of the most striking, and most unambiguously polyphonic, 
is the following in the revolution scene in Boris ^ a contraction of the 
motive of the 'Ever rising, ever spreading' chorus becoming an 
ostinato under which the theme is given out in augmented values : 

Ex. 108 

I4"ii" cnrfgE 


cT:'^ rE =1 




^ms — « — fi — 

-G- 4 

LL j r j q 

t r r r 


^^^^ 3 3=^ 

cJ. J — ' 

IJ J t_-J_J 



Another is: 

Ex. 109 

Chorus (in octaves) 

Accpt. (in octaves) 



{Khovanshchina, p. i86) 

in which the folk-song-like alternation of unison and two-part 
harmony, and also the directly attacked fourths, will be noticed. 

Even in such combinations, Mussorgsky does not boggle at 
consecutives or clashes (e.g. the seventh and the ninth in Ex. log), 
although, of course, these stand out far more than in less stark 
schemes. Those in the above examples may be regarded as valuable 
elements of characterization (Ex. io8, fierceness and turmoil: 
Ex. 1 09, austere archaism) and are in keeping with the style of the 
context. At the beginning of the garden scene in the third act of 




tx_f f r_^r— t 

the three consecutive fifths may seem more questionable, and 
ascribable to sheer carelessness. Yet they are so noticeable, and 
could so easily have been avoided, that it is more reasonable to 
decide that he introduced them deliberately : perhaps for the sake 
of their cold, transparent colour (the garden is bathed in moon- 
light). The process, since then, has become current coinage: and 
these particular fifths are no less acceptable to the ear than those 
that Debussy and Ravel have used for similar purposes. Rimsky- 
Korsakof, in his revision, sought to amend the passage by synco- 
pating the lower part — not one of his most regrettable corrections 
by far, but still one which spells ignorance of the fact that Mussorg- 
sky, as already stated, had practically no use for syncopation and 
would never have dreamed of using it at that point. In the matter 
of part-writing, Mussorgsky is certainly not a paragon ; nor was 
he, as averred by his censors, a bungling ignoramus. Considering, 
for instance, his basses, which have been criticized no less sharply 
than Berlioz's, we should begin by remembering how sensitive he 
was to the values of chords /?^r se, and even, in a way quite his own, 
of their various positions. This is shown by his occasionally 
peculiar use of a first inversion, notably as a final chord ('The 
Derelict', Sunless, No. 2, etc.) and of a second inversion, even at 
points of rest [Boris Godunof p. 53, last line, "calm unbroken"; 
p. 75, 1. I, *'0 wonder"; p. 236, last line "to please Marina" etc.) 
In this last instance, we have two second inversions consecutively: 
the first (bar 2) scored for two clarinets and two bassoons, the 
clarinets under the bassoons, and the second for the same instru- 
ments plus strings, the bass given to the 'celli — obviously not an 
undesigned combination. In the revolution scene (p. 388) the 
song of the two vagrant monks ends on the second inversion of the 
F minor triad (without the third) and thereupon the 'Ever rising' 
chorus breaks out on an unharmonized F sharp, the unison follow- 
ing in the vocal score only, an F sharp minor triad — the bare 
fourth and the augmented fourth leap in bass and upper part 



contributing to the overwhelming effect of violence suddenly let 

So we see him electing to use this or that position of a chord, 
or series of chords in root position, without considering whether a 
more elegant bass design could be secured by means of a modifica- 
tion or two. 

It is true that his basses are not always as flexible and mobile as 
might be expected, considering the speed at which the harmony 
usually changes (a point that will be dealt with presently). On 
the other hand, he has interesting basses in conjoint diatonic pro- 
gressions (a famous descending scale in the bass in the 'Turkish 
Dance' in Glinka's Ruslan had set an example that all the Russians 
followed at some time or other) ; and also, here and there, melodic, 
freely moving basses, at times derived from his main themes — 
especially in Boris. He had little use for basses in chromatic steps. 
In 'Gathering Mushrooms' the bass moves chromatically part of 
the time, but less often in the second version than in the first 
(Lamm edition, pp. 12-13, and 16-17). The sketches for Boris 
also contain chromatic basses that were not preserved (e.g. vocal 
score, p. 60). 

Most of those other basses of his which seem unsatisfactory to 
theorists happen to be the only suitable ones. What Schumann 
said of Berlioz's part- writing in his famous essay on the Symphonie 
fantastique is equally true of Mussorgsky's — and Liadof said it: 
the veriest tyro can easily detect the alleged faults and correct 
them, but the result, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, will be a 
loss. Rimsky-Korsakof 's alteration of the bass in the choral phrase 
in Boris quoted supra, Ex. 63, for its consecutive fifths to: 

Ex. Ill 


J J J J 




will strike anyone who knows the genuine text as an intolerable 
enfeeblement, and also as out of keeping with the archaic style of 
the chant. 

This is but one of the many instances in which Mussorgsky's 
choral writing, however crude it may seem on paper, proves far 
more effective than the theoretically improved versions. There are 



similar cases in instrumental passages too. For instance, anyone 
comparing this entry in the coronation scene : 

Ex. 112 













Sva bassa 

with Rimsky-Korsakof's version of it: 


1 Clar. 

1 Bassoon 





Sva bassa 

might quite reasonably decide that example 1 1 2 is the improved 

The influence of the modal scales and the functioning of the 
variable scale is no less noticeable in Mussorgsky's cadences and 
modulations than in his other concatenations. The cadences to A 
minor in ^Death's Lullaby' and to the seventh degree of the 
modal scale in 'Kallistratushka' have already been mentioned; 
likewise the inconclusive final cadences on an inversion, a 



dominant, or a discord. He is probably the first composer in whose 
music half-closes and 'deceptive cadences' outnumber perfect 
cadences. His interrupted cadences are never of the painstakingly- 
deceptive order that constitutes one of the stereotyped airs and 
graces of the academic style. Examining his modulations by means 
of a cadence to an unexpected key (which he generally leaves 
without establishing it) we can see forthwith that they are a 
different thing altogether: for instance, in Boris, p. 322, 1. 2, the 
sudden change from A minor to B flat minor via the relative D flat 
major triad and the dominant seventh, the tonic triad appearing 
once only, on the weak part of a bar, after which the dominant 
triad (F major) leads straight back to A minor. 

This is a good example of his way of using dominant-tonic 
cadences unobtrusively. Whether this frugal use of them was 
consciously calculated or not is difficult to say. The telling effects 
he obtains now and then by bringing them out frankly have already 
been mentioned. 

He certainly reserves more or less emphatic cadences of this sort 
for special effects; for instance in Boris, p. 147, last bar, to p. 148, 
first bar, where the strong full close emphasizes the contrasting 
ominously gentle tone of the words that follow the Tsar's angry 
exclamation. The way the scenes in Boris and Khovanshchina end 
will suffice to show how consistent Mussorgsky is in his parsimony. 
In Boris, the coronation scene ends on an emphatic, prolonged 
full close, with plagal confirmation; and the death scene on an 
equally emphatic cadence, but plagal, the dominant harmony 
having played but a small part in the peroration. Nor is the 
dominant conspicuous in the last section of the garden scene 
(Act iii) which ends on a plagal cadence, definite but not 
emphasized. The first scene of this act ends on a faint dominant- 
tonic cadence, but all the other scenes without a cadence. Of the 
three finished acts of Khovanshchina one, the fourth, closes with a 
military march, which has a formal plagal conclusion. Its first 
scene, ending with the murder of Khovansky, has a dominant- 
tonic cadence. The third act too ends on one, but unobtrusively. 
The conclusion of the first act consists of a chorus, in A aeolian, 
unaccompanied except for the strokes of the church bell (repre- 
sented by the harmony F sharp — C), which continue a while after 
the chorus has died out on a dominant-tonic cadence. Many of the 
main themes in Boris and Khovanshchina have no fixed cadential 
endings, various cadences being now and then given to them; 



in which case, the last note of the ending usually is the first note of 
the following phrase (in Boris, the 'anger', 'majesty' 'love for 
Feodor' and 'love for Xenia' themes; in Khovanshchina the brief 
Shaklovity theme) others have inconclusive cadences which 
naturally lend themselves to the same treatment: the Pimen 
theme is a good instance. The 'Ivan Khovansky' theme ends 
on the second degree of the scale, usually interpreted as dominant 
of the dominant. The 'anguish' theme in Boris has a strong cadence, 
but to the dominant; the Dimitri theme, an unambiguously 
cadential melodic turn whose folk-song origin has already been 
noted; and the Shuisky theme— the only one of Mussorgsky's 
main themes in which a modulation occurs — a dominant-tonic 
cadence in the new key, so contrived as to melt away in the 

Certain song-conclusions will be considered in the next chapter. 
Other points worth noting with regard to Mussorgsky's cadences 
generally are that they can end on any beat in the bar (endings on a 
weak beat are part of the scheme of 'The Feast', for instance) ; 
and that now and then the declamation or melody is prolonged 
beyond the point at which a cadential harmonic formula is com- 
pleted : 

V'V'i> ] I [ m 

^ Y-— c 



pp rail. 


^ ^J > ^ 

For- got - ten there, 




-y — *- 

a ' - lone he lies. 







The modulations are as varied as the concatenations. They are 
not to be considered in the same hght as modulations in ordinary 
major-minor music, since the cumulative effects of keys and of 
modes and also of the irregular or variable scales occasionally 
brought into play, have to be taken into account. 

It is not always easy to draw a line between passing-notes or 
auxiliary notes: seven bars on the A major triad in 'The Merry 
Hour', five, plus a pause, on the A flat triad in Salammbo's 
prayer, and so on, and harmonies extending over a bar or two are 
common. In the later works they become uncommon, and longer 
stretches hardly ever occur. There are a few conspicuous exceptions, 
notably at the beginning of the Khovanshchina prelude, six bars on 
the E major triad with added sixth; and in Boris Go dunof intro- 
ducing the chorus of the monks, pp. 360-1, eight bars on an 
ambiguous harmony, which will presently be referred to. 

He always uses the shortest and simplest, but not necessarily the 
most obvious, processes. For instance, he often modulates without 
the help of the leading note, as at the beginning of the coronation 
chorus in Boris (from C major to G major and D major without 
preliminary F sharp and G sharp) . The very fact that he is chary of 
prepared, circumstantial modulations makes those that he uses 
for definite purposes all the more effective, however simple they 
happen to be: thus, in the Ghancellor's speech in Boris, the 
modulations from E flat minor (concerning which, see infra, 
p. 292) to E flat major, and thence to A flat major, the key of the 
pilgrims' chorus; and, in Act iv, pp. 372-3, the modulation to 
A flat via four bars on its dominant seventh. 

A few typical examples of quick modulations in Boris may be 
mentioned: in the simpleton's song (p. 315) from A minor to the 
region of the keys with flats via the dominant of G minor — a 
telling change of colour; the Dimitri theme given out (p. 76) in 
E flat major reached via an unharmonized D after a G major 
triad that is preceded by the D major triad — a fine example of a 
brief incursion into a key for a special reason ; p. 390, the tonic 
note F sharp, well established in its function, becomes the leading 
note to G major — a most effective use of a common device; and 
p. 360, there is a splendid transition from D flat major (Boris's 
prayer) to G sharp aeolian (the monk's chorus) by means of the 
obvious enharmony D flat — G sharp, the note being given a 
neutral harmonization (diminished seventh). 

Despite this inclination to take short cuts or sudden leaps, and 



to disregard preparations and other precautions, he is, on the 
whole, sparing with modulations. He avails himself liberally of the 
facilities afforded by enharmony or by notes common to several 
keys, but does not allow himself to be led astray by these and to 
draw upon a new key without good reason. When he modulates 
suddenly, it is because he positively feels that a gradual transition 
would make for weakness. Here again we see him guided by an 
extraordinarily keen sense of fitness, which makes him accept or 
ignore traditional procedure according as the one course or the 
other leads straighter to his goal. Many relationships which a 
less free, less clear-sighted intuition would have rejected appeared 
to him not only admissible, but natural and necessary. Hence 
the wealth and simplicity of his vocabulary and syntax. 

To sum up before observing his processes in action and con- 
sidering matters of structure and continuity: very little indeed 
in all that has been observed so far could serve to justify the 
ceaseless rigmarole about his amateurishness and technical 
incapacity. On the contrary, all the features mentioned are of the 
kind that make for firmness, terseness, clarity and flexibility. The 
most extraordinary thing is how consistent, how perfectly sub- 
servient to his ends his methods are, how well he knew when to 
be thrifty and when prodigal. The infinite variety of his scales 
and harmonic concatenations enabled him to exploit a wide range 
of contrasts and shades of colour or expression while using but a 
minimum of harmonic artifices. Of these artifices, he preferred the 
simplest (passing-notes and pedal-points), making little use of the 
more ostentatious ones (suspensions and anticipations) which 
may easily lead to rhetorical over-emphasis. He used appog- 
giaturas freely, but more for reinforcing accents than for purely 
pathetic effects. His way of often having them in the instrumental 
accompaniment rather than in the voice, and of being chary of 
feminine endings, is thoroughly characteristic of his dislike of 

This is shown, again, by his strikingly economical use of con- 
trasts in note-values — an unexpected feature in a composer who 
resorted so freely and aptly to changes of time-signature ; by the 
small compass within which even his most forcible themes move, 
the scarcity of big leaps in his vocal phrases, and his restraint in the 
use of orchestral colours and of loud tutti. This policy betokens not 
ignorance or weakness, but wisdom and power. Weaklings, be 
they well-meaning bunglers or competent but uninspired crafts- 



men, do not, when their aims are ambitious, err on the side of 
economy: they rather inchne to commandeer the whole range of 
available resources. 

It is quite possible that, running through the list of all the 
devices (perfectly legitimate, and put to good use by practically 
every other great composer) which Mussorgsky neglected, people 
unacquainted with his music might think that he suffered, if not 
from technical incapacity, then at least from some kind of inhibi- 
tion; or, maybe, that he was too easily satisfied with the very first 
form in which ideas occurred to him, and did not trouble to improve 
upon them by industrious experimenting. No such conclusion 
will survive in anybody who becomes familiar with his music, 
and judges it without prejudice. How he worked, how he proceeded 
in selecting and eliminating, we do not know. We have far too 
few of his jottings and rough drafts to be able to determine how 
much he experimented before finally deciding. 

The question is of slight importance, it being quite clear that 
the decision, whether impulsive or calculated, was almost un- 
failingly sound. But, even so, certain style-features have to be 
registered without any attempt at explanation: especially so the 
scarcity of upbeats. He was, of course, no more unaware of the 
possibility of using upbeats than of the usefulness of syncopation, 
examples of which abounded in the music of the Russian gypsies 
all around him, and also in that of his beloved Schumann, among 
others. To allege that ignorance or clumsiness prevented his 
using these resources would be as absurd as to allege that the art 
of using long note-values was beyond him, or that his changes of 
time-signature reveal an incapacity to formalize and balance 
phrases according to customary practice. 

Having registered all these idiosyncrasies, the analyst inevitably 
reaches the conclusion that his music lacks none of the needful 
vital constituents; and even though here and there a point or 
two of detail would admit of technical improvement, it consists 
entirely of vital constituents, with which it is impossible to tamper 
without causing damage. Indeed, his inborn capacity for dealing 
in essentials and for proceeding boldly and lucidly from point to 
point was such that, had he been endowed with a sense of instru- 
mental music and inclined by nature to express himself in form- 
building, he might well have made giant strides towards a new 
type of musical art, rooted in his country's native music, 
evolved by building up on the modal principle instead of away 



from it as happened in Western music, and production of forms as 
ripe and complex and perfect in all respects as the Western 
symphony and sonata, but as different from these as, say, the 
Elizabethan drama is from the tragedy of Corneille and Racine — 
an Utopian notion so far, but one which might long have been a 
reality had the art of composition been practised in Russia for 
centuries by one composer of genius after another. 



Technique and Style (III) 

Forms — Keys — Tonality and modality — Tonal plans and 
structure — Vocal and instrumental parts — Instrumental style 

EXACTLY as Mussorgsky's syntax represents an adjustment 
between the tonal principle and the modal (including the par- 
ticular treatment of modes exemplified in Russian folk-music), 
so do his most interesting forms. 

The first point to consider is whether he evinced a preference 
for certain keys or modes, using them for specific purposes of 
characterization, atmosphere, or colour. Lapshin^^ replies in the 
affirmative as regards keys; but the statistics on which his con- 
clusions rest do not cover the whole output, and he does not 
consider tonal and modal conditions jointly. 

The question of the character of keys is disputable enough per 
se ; and even exhaustive statistics may fail to show that a composer 
is guided by definite individual reasons in his selection. When 
modal character has to be considered as well, it becomes hopeless. 
The alteration of a single note, when it changes the mode and not 
the key, introduces a change of character very diflferent from that 
which would result from a change of key : as when, in the G major 
scale, an F sharp brings about a modulation not to G major, but 
to G lydian. When contrasts depend upon both keys and modes, 
it is doubly illogical to consider matters in terms of the major- 
minor tonal systems. 

In order, however, not to complicate the discussion, it will be 
convenient to deal here with keys chiefly, referring to modes only 
when special points suggest themselves. 

Mussorgsky may have ascribed little importance to the character 
of keys, and also to the outer appearance of logic in tonal structure : 
but he had a keen sense of the value of key relationship. The time 
is not so far back when the opposite view was accepted as a matter 
of course: "The third act of Khovanshchina from the moment of the 
Scribe's entrance to the end, remained in E flat minor without 



any relief. This was both intolerable and unjustifiable, since this 
section consists of two distinct episodes. I left the first half in E 
flat minor, but transposed the second to D minor."^^ 

Now that we have the genuine text of the work, we can see that 
the section referred to is not all in E flat minor, but contains a 
number of modulations (Lamm edition, pp. 245, 246, 247, 250, 
258) which do provide a measure of relief. Whether the transposi- 
tion of the second half of it to D minor was desirable remains a 
mere matter of opinion. 

Mussorgsky's music teems with splendid eflfects of light and 
darkness, rise and fall, or tension and relaxation, produced by 
changes of key. It will be noticed, for instance, how telling the 
key of D flat major is, coming after F major, when Pimen starts 
describing the miracle that marked the passing of a virtuous Tsar 
{Boris, p. 69) ; or in the initial version of the scene in the Tsar's 
apartments by G major appearing when Boris tries to comfort 
his daughter (ib., p. 127). Further, there is the effect of both 
mysticism and tension produced by F sharp major after G major in 
Shuisky's description (vocal version) of the murdered Tsarevitch. 
In the initial version, the corresponding passage has no such 
contrast of keys. But we may feel sure that the contrast finally 
decided upon was not suggested from outside: in fact, Rimsky- 
Korsakof, in his revision, suppressed it, and rewrote the descrip- 
tion in G major. 

The many ways of his own Mussorgsky has of establishing or 
suggesting a key are characteristic of his attitude to tonality. 
The analysis, in chapter XVI supra, of his harmonization of the 
Riabinin tune has already made this point clear: a few other 
examples will show the diversity of his methods. 

The 'Parrot' song in Boris (p. 198) begins in A major, but the 
tonic harmony is not affirmed until the fourth bar, the first three 
rather suggesting F sharp minor. The first actual modulation is to 
F lydian, without preparation; and after further quick modula- 
tions, a return to the main key is efifected via not its dominant but 
that of F sharp minor. In the second stanza, the modulations are 
diflferent; it ends with a perfect cadence in A major. 

The first version of the song 'Night' begins in F sharp minor, 
the harmony of the second degree playing a bigger part than that 
of the dominant (cf. supra, p. 237, on the second degree as modal 
dominant in Russian folk-tunes). The next key is B, alternately 
major and minor; and after further modulations — some of them a 



trifle crude, others very fine — the music reverts to F sharp major. 
But Mussorgsky was reluctant to reassert the tonic, whose 
harmony in the course of the first eight bars appears only once 
' (second beat of second bar). Its reassertions in the peroration 
are qualified again and again. 

'Night', it is true, is — even in its slightly more compact second 
version — one of the most loosely constructed of Mussorgsky's 
songs, a fact which the sub-title 'a fantasy' acknowledges; but, as 
already said, it contains very lovely music. 

The 'Hebrew Song' is all in G sharp minor, but with remark- 
able idiosyncrasies. In the four-bar introduction (harmonies of the 
tonic and the subdominant) the scale has two variable notes: E 
natural — E sharp, and C sharp— C double-sharp. Other chromatic 
alterations occur in the course of the song, the same harmonies 
predominating. B major, the relative, is touched; the dominant 
harmony (D sharp major triad) is heard only in the tenth, eleventh, 
and thirteenth bars, there being two 'deceptive' progressions and 
a third to the tonic on which the second verse begins. This is 
similar in structure. When the dominant reappears, it is again 
for a 'deceptive cadence' to the subdominant; the voice, unac- 
companied, ends the period, and the last two bars repeat the 
music of the introduction, with the same variables. There can be 
no doubt that the song owes much of its character and beauty to 
this rare, subtle, and simple scheme. The Chancellor music in 
Boris is in E flat minor. In the bars preceding it, the tonic harmony 
(E flat minor triad) occurs unobtrusively in the course of an 
unharmonized run from the F sharp minor triad (tonic of the 
preceding passage) to the B flat minor triad (new dominant 
minor). But from this point on, the harmony remains indefinite, 
the subdominant playing a big part, the tonic not being con- 
spicuously asserted, and appoggiaturas and passing-notes con- 
tributing to the feeling of suspense. On the twenty-first bar only, 
the tonic harmony (second inversion) is given out firmly. And 
after a while a dominant- tonic full close introduces E flat major; 
this tonic becomes the dominant of A flat major, in which the 
pilgrims' chorus breaks out. 

In other words, Mussorgsky's sense of tonality does not depend 
upon the affirmation of tonic, dominant and subdominant, which 
he exploits or not according to the needs of the moment. He feels 
no need to begin or end with any such affirmation. It has already 
been mentioned that 'On the River' {Sunless, No. 6), is balanced 



up6n a dissonant harmony. A miniature instance of the same 
procedure is 'A Child's Song', in A major, all built up on the 
dominant seventh, the nearest approach to the tonic harmony- 
being the notes A and C sharp occurring simultaneously on the 
second and fourth beats of the fourteenth bar. 

The second number in Sunless fluctuates between suggestions of 
D major and of B flat major. This brief song, of course, was not 
intended to be isolated from the set of which it is part : so, it may 
be noted that the first had ended in D major, and the third begins 
in G major, afterwards proceeding into the region of the flats. 

The admirable 'Elegy' (No. 5 of the set) is in no definite key, 
but there are strong suggestions of the dominant of F sharp in the 
first section, in which the B minor and F sharp minor triads 
occasionally occur. F sharp major is suggested in the midst of 
further fluctuations and finally F sharp minor emerges, to be 
quietly affirmed in two bars on the tonic triad, morendo, with an 
appoggiatura, B sharp — G sharp, which might be analysed as the 
adumbration of a cadence from second dominant (G sharp 
dominant seventh) to dominant (G sharp) and back to tonic. 
Needless to explain how unlikciy it is that this curious, strangely 
logical plan was consciously devised : but the facts are there for all 
to see. 

Even when Mussorgsky has begun and continued in an unam- 
biguously established key, he does not make a point of reverting 
to it at the end. 'Death's Lullaby', in F sharp minor, with its 
cadences, including the last, to A minor, has already been referred 
to. 'The Ragamuffin' is in G major. After a modulating section in 
which this key reappears several times, the end comes in G major, 
quickly but firmly established as a tonic — a noteworthy extension 
of the idea of ending on the dominant (as in 'The Orphan' and 
'Prayer'). 'I own many palaces' is in B major, but ends with a 
short section in B aeolian. The change is determined by the poetic 
sense; the poem (by Koltzof) says: 

I own many palaces and gardens, pearls and 
other treasures, and all that should make 
for happiness : yet well I know why I am 
seeking magic herbs, and why my heart is 
full of sadness. 

Likewise in 'Death's Serenade': the first half — the maiden 



dreaming and yearning — is in E minor; the second — Death 
wooing her — in E flat minor. A return to the opening key would 
have been thoroughly inappropriate in both cases; a comparison 
with the tonal plan of Balakiref 's Tamara — the setting in one key, 
the drama in another — unavoidably suggests itself. 

Turning to the operas for examples of bigger schemes, we 
notice how fine the tonal plan of Boris Godunof is, especially in its 
initial version. The whole tonal balance of the first scene rests upon 
C sharp and its enharmony D flat, the main landmarks being: 
C sharp aeolian (prelude), F aeolian (first chorus of imploration), 
F sharp aeolian (second chorus), E flat minor (the Chancellor's 
speech), A flat major (the pilgrims' chorus), and C sharp aeolian 
(final section) . Not all the scenes show the same perfect symmetry, 
nor is there any reason they should. But the coronation scene, 
after the prelude evoking the tolling bells, begins and ends in 
C major. The scene in the cell begins in D minor; a second section 
introduces B minor, and the climax (the narrative of the murder) 
is in A minor. But, after the suggestion of a return to D minor 
(vocal score, p. 77, last line) the swift conclusion moves first to the 
relative of this key's dominant, F sharp aeolian, and thence to 
C sharp minor, in which the opening motive reappears, thus 
acquiring a new dramatic colour, to accompany Grigory's impre- 
cation. In the initial version of the second act, after the scenes with 
the children, the central key is G sharp minor (the Tsar's mono- 
logue, crucial portions of his dialogue with Shuisky, pp. 146-8, 
and final section). The scene by St. Basil's cathedral begins in D 
aeolian, and A aeolian predominates from the Simpleton's entry 
to the end. The last act begins in an ambiguous E flat minor, and 
the music wavers for a time between this and A flat major. The 
end section is built upon the enharmony C sharp — D flat. 

In the final version, the structure of the revolution scene calls 
for special notice. The opening is in A minor, the chorus "Tis no 
falcon proud' in A flat major. A return to A, aeolian, is effected 
with the Simpleton's entry. The vagrant monks' song is the 
Riabinin tune, whose harmonization was described in chapter 
XVI (pp. 239-40). In its context, it may unhesitatingly be accepted 
as in F aeolian, whence a sudden leap is made to F sharp aeolian, 
in which the chorus 'Ever rising, ever spreading' begins and ends. 
Then a new key, E flat major, breaks in as the Jesuits intone their 
chant. The onslaught on them is in F minor, the Pretender's 
entry in E flat major — various modulations leading up to D flat 



major for his speech to the people, and another leading back, 
through E major, to A aeolian for the Simpleton's final plaint. 

The great chorus itself is admirably laid out. The opening, as 
mentioned, is in F sharp aeolian, with which strains in B aeolian 
provide a contrast. The next key is G major — another of 
Mussorgsky's characteristic rises of a semitone. Then a short spell 
of bouncing from key to key leads up to a climax in F sharp 
aeolian, whence a new series of leaps, beginning in B flat minor, 
pianissimo, ends with another climax in the same key. Instances of 
interesting tonal planning are, of course, hardly to be sought in 
the ill-fated Khovanshchina; or in The Marriage, in which a bare 
minimum of structure, depending mainly upon the use of leit- 
motives, is made to suffice. The Khovanshchina prelude consists of 
random rambling from key to key ; but the changes of key in the 
Persian Dances are effective. These dances, with A Night on the 
Bare Mountain, the most important of Mussorgsky's instrumental 
compositions, are a set of 'colour' or 'changing background' 
variations on two themes, and an excellent example — standing 
midway between Glinka's 'Lesghinka' in Ruslan, of which 
Mussorgsky obviously thought while composing them, and 
Borodin's Polovtsian Dances (1878) — of this genre dear to the 
Russians. Other instances, less elaborate, are (besides the prelude) 
Marfa's love-song and Kuzka's song, both in the third act. The 
tonal layout of the fourth act (practically all composed between 
May and December 1876, at a time when Mussorgsky was buoyant 
and working well) is compact and orderly enough to be worth 
considering, especially in the first scene, with its curious bunching 
up of keys — G sharp aeolian, F major, F sharp minor, with 
chromatic variants, G major, F major, F sharp minor, G major, 
apart from brief temporary modulations. The act ends in A flat 
major (the Imperial Guards' march). 

To revert to the songs: again it can be seen how futile it is to 
contrast Mussorgsky's realistic style with his so-called idealistic, 
or, more properly, lyrical. There is no justification for contending 
that the most realistic songs are the most shapeless: not one of 
them, for instance — except naturally those that are recitative 
pure and simple, like 'With Nanny' — is as loosely built as 'Night'. 

Comparing 'Savishna' and 'The Ragamuffin', both of them 
thoroughly realistic, we have marked that the intrinsic musical 
value of the song does not, any more than the form, depend upon 



its realism or non-realism : separated from the words, the music of 
'Savishna' would be meaningless, but that of 'The Ragamuffin' 
would make a delightful instrumental scherzo. (A comparison 
between this song and the scherzo of Borodin's unfinished sym- 
phony has been suggested.) ^^ 

'The Ragamuffin' also shows that the texture of a thoroughly 
realistic song need not consist of substance hit upon more or less 
at random according to the requirements of the moment : every 
pattern in it emanates from the main motive exposed in the first 
six bars, except for the sudden contrast introduced by a break in 
the rhythmic flow — two bars in 12/4 (which, by the way, is 
really 3/1). Such sudden breaks in the rhythm are a noteworthy 
style-feature of Mussorgsky. Other typical instances occur in 
'The Magpie', the coronation chorus in Boris (vocal score, p. 39) 
and Feodor's song "Twas when Mother Goose went about' (ib., 
p. 172). These last two examples show that the process is not 
necessarily a concession to the claims of realism. In 'The Magpie', 
too, all the rest of the music comes out of a germ-cell of four notes 
with which the song opens. In 'Trepak', all is thematic, from the 
anticipation of the main, theme under the opening chords (see 
supra, Ex. 60) to the echoes of it alternating with the new theme 
introduced in the final section. Likewise in 'Yeremushka', the 
plaintive germ-cell of which: 

reappears in the imploration chorus in the prologue of Boris 
Godunof, composed a few months later. 

In other words the minimum-of-stylization principle, with 
Mussorgsky, does not preclude consistency of texture. Of course, 
not all the songs are so close-knit thematically, nor is there any 
reason why they should be: the process belongs rather to instru- 
mental composition ; and it is curious to find Mussorgsky, of all 
people, applying it to song. 

The next point to consider with regard to texture is the relation 
and interaction of vocal part and instrumental. That the piano 
part of the songs, even when it is simple and does not aim at reach- 
ing further than the words, may be of real intrinsic value has been 
marked with reference to 'The Ragamuffin'. As with all great 



song-writers from Schubert onwards, the function of the piano 
part varies greatly. It may be an accompaniment pure and simple, 
in the traditional style of lyric song ('Savishna', 'Hopak', Tor- 
gotten', etc.), or one that aims more specifically at colouring the 
vocal part and stressing its accents ('Sphinx', most of The Nursery, 
Sunless, Nos. i and 2, etc.) ; it may be pantomimic, suggesting 
attitudes and motions ('Kallistratushka', 'Yeremushka', 'The 
Seminarist', etc.); it may evoke the setting with wonderful 
impressiveness ('Wild winds blowing', 'Trepak', etc.) ; or, reaching 
farther and deeper than words, even sung, ever could, reveal to 
the full the meaning latent in these, and in Tovey's words,* 
"the permanent features to be found in the background of the 
poem" ('Elegy' and 'On the River' in Sunless, 'Death's Lullaby', 
certain portions of 'Night', etc.). 

In short, Mussorgsky carried song to a level never reached before 
in Russia, except by Balakiref in one or two of his masterpieces 
such as 'A Song to Georgia' and 'The Song of the Golden Fish' 
(Borodin's first songs were composed between 1868 and 1870), 
nor elsewhere except by Schubert and Schumann. 

Considering his output, one cannot help wondering why, being 
a pianist of rare merit, and thoroughly acquainted, through his 
knowledge of the works of Schubert, Schumann, Liszt, and 
Balakiref, with the resources which the instrument provided, he 
should have given us but little piano music, and that little far 
less attractive and revealing than might have been expected. 
Even the best of the Pictures from an Exhibition, however racy they 
are, impress one as restricted in scope, and indeed sketchy for the 
most part. Most of them, avowedly, are miniatures, and thoroughly 
acceptable as such; and the 'Baba Yaga', on a bigger scale, is 
telling enough ; but surely one would have expected more technical 
elasticity and ingenuity in the ambitious 'The Gate of the 
Bogatyrs'. And all the other compositions — Scherzi, Intermezzo, 
and minor pieces — show the same shortcomings even from the 
matter-of-fact 'point of view of instrumental treatment. But the 
more one studies the songs, the better one realizes the significance 
and high originality of the piano part. So he was not incapable of 
using the instrument skilfully and imaginatively; but it seems that, 
in order to rise to his highest, he absolutely required the stimulus 
provided by a poem. Once in his life only, he found an adequate 
stimulus in a mere programme, and composed A Night on the 

* Essay on Schubert in The Heritage of Music, vol. i 


Bare Mountain. In its authentic, unrevised form (not yet available 
in print, but performed in many countries under the conductor- 
ship of Nikolai Malko) it is, as regards orchestral treatment, on a 
level with Boris Godunof. But, as just pointed out, nothing in his 
piano music comes anywhere near the high level of the piano 
part in his greatest songs. 

In the matter of establishing the co-operation of voice and piano, 
his sense of fitness was a sure guide. It is thoroughly characteristic 
of him that in some of his songs he should have given an unusual 
measure of free play to the piano in introductions, conclusions, 
and even interludes, but elsewhere should have dispensed with 
even the most summary instrumental opening or ending. In the 
first version of 'The Orphan' and in 'The Seminarist', voice and 
piano enter together. In 'Forgotten', 'Epitaph', 'Trepak', 'The 
Banquet', and the first three numbers of Sunless, the instrumental 
preliminary consists of one note or chord only. A purely accom- 
panying pattern preludes to the entry of the voice in a number of 
songs, 'Elegy' and 'On the River' among others. 'I have many 
palaces' starts with six instrumental bars in which the harmony 
of the dominant is persistently asserted; in 'The Ragamuffin' the 
piano gives out alone the first two bars of the main theme, the 
voice joining in on the third. In 'Death's Lullaby', a four-bar 
introduction gives out the main theme. So does the fourteen-bar 
introduction to 'Kallistratushka'. The 'Hebrew Song' and 'By the 
Don' begin with a motive that is not heard in the course of the song, 
but reappears after the voice has finished. 'The leaves rustled 
sadly', one of the slowest in pace of Mussorgsky's songs, has a six- 
bar introduction and a ten-bar peroration, both, like the re- 
mainder of the piano part, mere accompaniment music. But 
usually, when the piano speaks alone for any length of time, it 
is because it has something special to say. 

Instrumental interludes are not common. Two occur in 'Wild 
winds blowing' (fourteen and thirteen bars respectively), which 
has a ten-bar peroration. And in 'Gathering Mushrooms' a four- 
bar interlude marks the transition from hatred, expressed in the 
middle, modulating section, to love. 

The last notes may even be entrusted to the voice alone ('For- 
gotten', 'Misfortune', 'Joyless'). Endings on the tonic chord not in 
root position, or on the dominant harmony, or on a discord, are 
mentioned in the foregoing chapter. Interesting instances of 
significant perorations are: 'On the River', six bars, and 'Trepak', 



four bars, echoing the main theme; 'KaUistratushka', eight bars 
of play on two of the motifs; *The Harper's Song', eight bars, 
introducing a new motif; 'King Saul', first version, eighteen bars 
(reduced to six in the second version). 

The music whose main characteristics have been described, 
be it thematic or not in texture, realistic or not in character, and 
innovative or not in idiom, is equally live and telling. Mussorgsky 
certainly ranks among the greatest inventors of harmonies, 
rhythms, and melodic patterns that ever were. The fact that most 
of the paths he opened or was the first to explore were further 
explored to good purpose by modern composers of most schools 
will be considered in the next chapter. It need not be taken into 
account in the assessment of his music, which naturally is a question 
of achievements, not of indications or prophecies. Still, it may be 
regarded as confirmatory proof that his innovations were not 
still-born, nor the outcome of eccentricity or wrong-headedness. 
And if we agree with Parry {Style in Musical Art, p. 230) that "men 
do not look for new resources while existing resources are ade- 
quate", it also helps to make clear that existing resources were not 
adequate for Mussorgsky nor for those composers who, coming 
later, either learnt from him or rediscovered and extended for 
themselves the methods he had used. But the main point is 
whether he himself used his discoveries constructively and 
succeeded in creating a technique and style of his own. 

The number of feeble works in his output is very small indeed, 
and these are not unsuccessful attempts at finding himself either 
in the province of expressive realism or in that of far-reaching 
lyricism, but incursions into the realm of threadbare convention- 
alities (see the quotation from Gerald Abraham, supra, p. 255). 
In all the rest of his music we see him guided by a practically 
unerring sense of fitness and proportion, displayed in both the 
selection and marshalling of his materials. He shows not only 
keen sensitiveness to the indefinable implications of sounds and 
rhythms in action, but a splendid sense of pace. This is exemplified 
not only in the many songs in which, be they short or long, simple 
or complex in contents, every point is made fully and satisfyingly, 
without ever a trace of over-insistence or hurry, but also in the 
initial version of his dramatic masterpiece, Boris Godunof. And if 
in this particular respect, the final version does not rise throughout 
to the same wonderful level, it is because of the conditions under 
which Mussorgsky composed it, with the preoccupation of having 



to meet the views of the directors and patrons of the Petersburg 

Nothing could illustrate this gift of his more convincingly than 
the scene in the cell in its original form, which, although all 
narrative and dialogue without stage action, holds spectators 
spellbound from beginning to end — as happened during the writing 
of this book, at every one of the performances at the Sadler's Wells 
Theatre ; it is only when the scene is mutilated, deprived of its 
beautifully balanced contrasts, and of its very climax, the narrative 
of the murder, that it drags. 

His instrumental style, which is the last point to be considered, 
contributes greatly to the general effect. Indeed, the scene in the 
cell, and especially Pimen's narrative in it, is held up by Gliebof 
(whose essay on Mussorgsky's orchestration^^ is remarkably 
instructive and thorough) as an example of his orchestra at its 
most expressive, characteristic, and supple. His methods are 
extremely simple, but far subtler than would appear at first blush 
or even at a first hearing. He exploits the characteristic timbre of 
each instrument skilfully, but is seldom concerned with drawing 
upon the technical properties that lend themselves to effects of 
virtuosity — this remains true even of the hallucination scene in 
the final version of Boris Godunof, and also of A Night on the Bare 

The string parts very seldom contain any stipulation as to the 
strokes and bowing — the ^'sul ponticeW just before the hallucina- 
tion scene in the final version of Boris is one of the few exceptions. 
But he marks the phrasing very carefully, and also the dynamic 
nuances. A noteworthy point is that he obtains many telling effects 
by associations of contrasting nuances: for instance, in Boris, 
St. Basil scene, full score, p. 41, bars 4, 5, one oboe mf, two clarinets 
p, one horn pp; p. 23, bar 2, oboes and bassoons,^, trumpets mf, 
'cello /; Act iii, p. 49, bar 5, two flutes and two bassoons mf, 
two clarinets p, two horns mf, and the other two p. The earliest 
instances of the use of this process occur in Beethoven's music 
(a very few) and in Berlioz's (a fair number). 

Gliebof 's conclusions on the subject are: 

All told, he succeeded splendidly in obtaining the tone-character 
he desired. His technical errors are no more numerous than those 
which many composers with far greater experience commit; and 
a good many of these are due to the novelty of his conceptions and 
the difficulty of carrying them out at that time. 



It is likely that as the study of his orchestration progresses, these 
conclusions will be more generally endorsed. 

There is nothing striking in his piano style. (It will be 
remembered that he gave up composing piano music early in his 
career.) The Pictures from an Exhibition are the only work of any 
importance belonging to the period of his maturity. Then, too, he 
refrains (certainly not through lack of the special knowledge 
required) from resorting to virtuosic effects ; and the music is not 
particularly pianistic. But it may be said that the piano, and 
especially its colour and resonance, is used far more subtly and to 
far better purpose in some of the songs: notably Sunless^ 'Trepak', 
'Death's Serenade', and, in a lighter vein, 'The Magpie' and The 
Garden^by the Don'. 




A Few Conclusions 

Artistic heredity — The question of style — Influence on the 

ulterior course of musical art — Ever-increasing recognition of 

the artistic value of Mussorgsky's works 

HOW far is the style whose principal idiosyncrasies have been 
considered related to that of Mussorgsky's predecessors and 
contemporaries? Its relation to Glinka's and Dargomyj sky's has 
been indicated. As regards Western masters, only four or five 
names suggest themselves. 

The first is, naturally, Berlioz's. He influenced the whole 
group, and principally Balakiref and Rimsky-Korsakof. But, 
when it comes to Mussorgsky, we see forthwith that the difference 
of character and spirit are great enough for comparison to be 
impossible except so far as regards a few technicalities. There 
are few points of resemblance between his music and Berlioz's — 
A Night on the Bare Mountain excepted. In temperament and 
musical feeling, the two were diametrically opposed. Berlioz was 
in many important respects an innovator, but in other respects 
thoroughly conservative. He found intolerably harsh harmonies 
not only in Wagner's music, but also in Beethoven's, and his music 
has none of the terseness of Mussorgsky's. On the other hand, one 
notices curious resemblances between their respective personalities. 

They are the only two great composers whose technical ability 
and artistic outlook are likely to remain for ever a subject of dispute. 
Many experienced judges regard Berlioz as having but a poor 
sense of harmony and modulation, and like Mussorgsky he has 
been criticized for his basses and his fondness for chords in root 
position. Other equally competent judges contend that his har- 
monies are the only fitting ones, being "a question not so much of 
technique as of fundamental conception".* 

Both are "isolated figures, to be judged without reference to 
any other composer" ;| both were praised — or blamed, as the 
case may be — for the part they played in the overthrowing of 

* Ernest Newman in Musical Studies, 1903. 

I Tom Wotton, of Berlioz, in The Heritage of Music ^ vol, ii, 1934. 


obsolete conventions; and both exercised, and still exercise, a 
considerable influence on the later evolution of music. 

Then there is Schubert, whose bold innovations in the matter of 
harmony (notably in the use of pedal-points), key relationship, 
and tonal plans (his 'Liedesend' is the earliest instance of a song 
starting in one key and ending in another) are direct precedents 
for Mussorgsky's. 

Schumann's harmonic style deeply impressed both Balakiref 
and Mussorgsky. It will be remembered that he was the first to 
end a song on a discord. More important are the unprecedented 
sensitiveness of his musical prosody, and the significance and 
independence of the piano part in his songs. A secondary proof of 
his influence on Mussorgsky is to be found in the Schumann-like 
turns that occur now and then in Boris Godunof (notably p. 65, 
1. I — an unmistakable echo of the scherzo of the First Symphony — 
p. 246, 1. 3, and p. 250, 1. 3 — reminiscent of *Ich grolle nicht'), 
Khovanshchina (p. 55, 11. 1-2) and some of the songs. The point 
would hardly be worth noting but for the fact that turns definitely 
recalling another composer's music are very few in Mussorgsky's. 

As already pointed out, his way of using leitmotives, allusions to 
and transformations of motives, is to be traced back to the example 
of Berlioz, Wagner, and Liszt jointly. Liszt influenced him far 
more directly and strongly than Berlioz or Wagner did, especially 
as regards harmony and instrumental style. The influence of the 
Danse Macabre has already been alluded to; and Karatyghin has 
expressed the view that the recurrence, in various of Mussorgsky's 
works, of patterns recalling the 'Dies Irae' (which is the basis of 
the Danse Macabre) may be traced back to it. The 'love for Feodor' 
theme in Boris closely recalls a theme in Liszt's Eglogue. And in 
Pimen's narrative in the council and death scene in Boris the 
beautiful passage: 

Ex= n? 


.^ ^^ f c I r r t 

< r 1^ rfr m 



Clear and gen - lie 

a - rose and spoke these won-der-ful words; 





'Rise,— grand - fa - ther, rise ! towards U - glich wend your way 




^^-J ^— J l llp-^; J l l l^-^^^jT^ 

was borrowed (maybe unconsciously) from the death scene in 
the oratorio Saint Elizabeth: 

Ex. us 

Lapshin was the first to discover this example — in all likelihood 
solitary in Mussorgsky's output — of a borrowing of both idea and, 
in a large measure, treatment. 

But, all told, these are merely accessory (or perhaps it would 
be more accurate to say complementary) influences. The primary 
influence, the very fons et origo of Mussorgsky's art remains the 
native art of his people. 

There remains to inquire whether, as often alleged, his music, 
despite its many virtues and signal originality, lacks that 
mysterious quality called style — a task that cannot be usefully 
undertaken unless the different meanings of the term be separated. 

It may mean personal idiosyncrasy of expression ; it may mean 
technique of expression as distinct from the things expressed, and 
in that sense can be discussed, as pointed out by J. Middleton 
Murry, only in relation to the exposition of intellectual ideas: 
not in relation to art, in which there is no discriminating 
between the expression and the thing expressed. And it can mean 
uniformity to some high standard (regarded, as often as not, as 
dependent upon certain conventional fixed laws) of excellence in 
form, diction, and so on. 

The first sense is a matter of kind only. The last is mainly a 



matter of quality; and the fallacy and looseness of it have so often 
been expressed that one can but wonder how it can still survive. 
Middleton Murry, however, has succeeded in bringing out the 
fundamental truth behind the fallacy, thus: "Style, in the absolute 
sense, is a quality that transcends all personal idiosyncrasy, yet 
needs — or seems to need — personal idiosyncrasy in order to be 
manifested. It is a complete fusion of the personal and the 
universal, the complete realization of a universal significance in a 
personal and particular expression." 

Let us attempt to achieve a solution of the problem of Mussorg- 
sky's style according to the terms of this pregnant definition. 

To say that he has a style of his own because his music can be 
differentiated from any other at a glance remains pointless: it 
merely implies that he has a manner, and manner depends upon 
marked idiosyncrasies of any sort, good or bad. To refer to the 
fact that his technique is characteristically his own and admirably 
suited to his own purposes is more useful up to a point, but leaves 
the question of quality untouched. 

We shall go a long way towards a solution if we begin by 
admitting — as is only reasonable in the light of Middleton 
Murry's definition — that style depends not upon any outer 
aspect of homogeneity, order, or conformity to tradition, but upon 
the vitaHzing function of the elements of a work and their inter- 
relation; that it is, therefore, in Middleton Murry's words, "not 
an isolable quahty", and "is perfect when the communication of 
the emotion in its particularity is exactly accomplished". Buffon's 
famous axiom: "Le style est de I'homme meme" (not "Le style, 
c'est I'homme", as almost invariably misquoted) makes it clear 
that an artist's style is a matter not of general rules, nor of race or 
period characteristics (which may be taken for granted), but of 
individual intuition: so that we cannot assess it from outside. 
Outer characteristics play no greater part in Mussorgsky's style 
than they do in the style of the most conservatively minded of 
creative artists. However needful to his purpose the unwonted 
chords, concatenations and rhythms he used, and however much 
they contributed to make his style what it is, they are to be taken 
into account only so far as, by using them, he compels us to feel 
the particularity of his emotion. "Every work of enduring litera- 
ture", Middleton Murry also says, "is not so much a triumph of 
language as a victory over language: a sudden injection of life- 
giving perceptions into a vocabulary that is, but for the energy of 



the creative writer, perpetually on the verge of exhaustion." 
Likewise, in music, every enduring achievement of the innovative 
order is not so much a victory of innovation as a sudden injection 
of life-giving perceptions into neologisms that, but for the energy 
of the creative composer, would not have justified their coming 
into being. 

Mussorgsky uses unwonted devices in ways that make them 
appear natural, necessary, and indeed inevitable. And this is one 
of the essential conditions of the creative artist's victory. Carrying 
the definition of style a step further, we may posit that "in the 
best art we feel the effect without being conscious of the means 
used to produce it — sometimes indeed without being able, after 
all our study, to find them out". This is entirely true of Mussorg- 
sky's art. Who, while listening to his music, notices either the 
extraordinary subtlety of the means by which certain of the effects 
are achieved, or their unusual rationale, as revealed by analysis? 
And how many Hsteners will discover on the spot the sins against 
conventional grammar on which censors have harped so per- 
sistently ? 

In Boris Godunof especially, that compound of tragedy and 
comedy, meditation and swift action, simplicity and complexity, 
descriptive characterization and emotional expression, picturesque 
evocations and revelations of human souls probed to the deep, 
nearly all the aspects of Mussorgsky's art — all, indeed, except 
for the purely spiritual, introspective moods, the sense of mystery 
manifested in the wonderful 'Elegy' and in *On the River' 
[Sunless, Nos. 5 and 6) — can be studied ; the lyrical, the realistic 
and the epic, the earnest, and (in the final version) the light. And 
the more we study them, the more clearly we reahze the homo- 
geneity of his style — a style based on the interplay of the most 
usual devices and thoroughly novel ones, which, contrasted or 
blended, co-operate in perfect harmony. It is this harmonious 
co-operation that is the essential feature, the one which enables 
us to decide that his music has style. 

Failure to grasp this essential fact (coupled, maybe, with literal 
acceptance of Mussorgsky's diatribes against rules) , has led certain 
critics to liken him to those amateur composers who, not being 
restrained by a sense of responsibility and measure, often hit upon 
remarkably original and useful ideas, but remain incapable of 
putting them to good use, of fusing them into a style. These critics 
seem to believe that this view is justified by the extent of Mussorg- 



sky's influence upon composers of the following generations and 
upon the formation of the modern idiom. It is true that practically 
all the distinctive features of his diction and style have become 
current coinage. This means, of course, that whereas he used them 
but occasionally, the use of them has become more or less sys- 
tematic. The earUest to show signs of his influence were Liadof 
(to a slight extent), Debussy, and Ravel. Ravel studied his music 
eagerly ; although uncompromising in his dislike of clumsiness and 
crudeness, he found no fault with this music and was one of the 
first to stand up for the genuine Boris against the revised. And this 
influence has spread, indirectly, even to composers who never 
paid any particular attention to his music: Bartok and Kodaly 
among others. It was not in technical matters only that others 
followed his lead, often without being aware that they were doing 
so. Wolfurt, for instance, is entirely right in saying that "Hugo 
Wolf in his songs continued Mussorgsky's realism, although in all 
UkeHhood he never came across any of his works". It is not possible 
to ascertain whether Janacek studied Mussorgsky, to whose music 
his — except that much of it is modal and that it shows an utter 
disregard of text-book rules — bears as little resemblance as Wolf's 
does. Yet, he had similar realistic and national ambitions; and 
his spiritual affinities are further revealed by these lines from his 
pen: "To every word the folk utters is attached a fragment of 
national life. Therefore, the melody of their speech should be 
studied with care." 

But stressing his importance as a precursor or pioneer often 
led to beclouding his importance as a creator of music that is 
profoundly significant and thoroughly satisfying. This music 
would ultimately have been acknowledged as such even if it had 
exercised no specific influence whatsoever. Unquestionably, the 
fact that his most venturesome processes have become everyday 
usage has rid most of us of the superstitious mistrust that his 
contemporaries felt bound to evince. But even among the critics 
who remained most uncompromising on the subject of his short- 
comings, none of those who were musically gifted or really sensitive 
to music — Rimsky-Korsakof, for instance, who never dreamt that 
he could have an artistic posterity, or Ernest Newman, who began 
by regarding him as "half a musician only" — could help paying 
tribute to its beauty and power. 



The autograph MS as left by Calvocoressi contained source references 
indicated by the system of initial letters shown below. It has been 
possible to identify most, but not all, of these references. 

1. VSM 

2. RMG 

3. MAM 

4. MLD 




1 1 























22. SEES 

Vladimir V. Stassof, Modest Petrovitch Mussorgsky, St. 
Petersburg, 1881. 

Russian Musical Gazette {Russkaya Muzykalnaya Gazeta) . 
M. P. Mussorgsky : Articles and Materials (in Russian), 
edited by Y. Keldysh and V. Yakbvlev, Moscow 


M. P. Mussorgsky: Letters and Documents, edited by 

A. Rimsky-Korsakof (in Russian), Moscow, 1932. 

Pierre d'Alheim, Moussorgski, Paris, 1896. 

M. D. Calvocoressi and Gerald Abraham, Masters 

of Russian Music, London, 1936. 

Karenin, Vladimir Stasov, Leningrad, 1927. 

Robert Godet, En Marge de Boris Godounof, London, 


Yearbook of the Imperial Theatres (in Russian). 

Same as 26. 

Koechlin, Traite d'harmonie, Paris. 

Oskar von Riesemann, Mussorgski, Munich, 1926. 

Kurt von Wolfurt, Mussorgskij, Berlin, 1927. 

Rimsky-Korsakof: Chronicle of my Musical Life (in 

Russian), Moscow, fifth edition, 1935. 

Mussorgsky number of Muzykalny Sovremennik, Petro- 

grad, 191 7. 

Same as 16. 

Proceedings of the Musical Association. 

Findeisen, Mussorgsky'' s Childhood and Touth (in 9. 

for 1 9 1 1 ) . 

Kastalsky, Peculiarities of Russian Folk-Music (in 

Russian), Moscow, 1923. 

Calvocoressi, La Musique a programme, in La 

Laurencie's Encyclopedic de la Musique, IL 6, Paris,, 


Cecil Sharp, English Folk Song, London, 1907. 


23- DNM 

24. MTNM 

25. KRLM 

26. BGVA 

27. MLO 

28. VKM 

29. CBS 

30. ILPRN 

31. MNGK 

32. MTLL 

33. YRRK 

34. LLGM 

35. ARKL 

36. RRHO 

37. BGAI 

38. LLR 

39. MDCM 

40. MBGV 

41. CMR 

42. BGA 

43. GKW 


Dyson, The New Music, London, 1924. 

Keldysh, Mussorgsky s Songs, Moscow, 1933. 

Boris Godunof: articles and studies (in Russian), 

Moscow, 1930. 

Same as MLD. 

V. Karatyghin: Mussorgsky, Petrograd, 1922. 

Correspondence of V. V, Stassof and M. A. Balakiref 

(in Russian), Moscow, 1935. 

Same as 14. 

Arseny Golenishchef-Kutuzof, Reminiscences of M. P. 

Mussorgsky (in Russian), in Muzykalnoe Nasledstvo, I, 

Moscow, 1935. 

V. V. Yastrebtsef: My Reminiscences of Rimsky- 
Korsakof (in Russian) , Petrograd, 1 9 1 7. 
La Laurencie, Le Gout musical en France, Paris, 1905. 
A. Rimsky-Korsakof, N. A. Rimsky-Korsakof: Life 
and Works (in Russian). Five vols., Moscow, 1933-46. 
Romain Rolland, Histoire de V Opera en Europe, 
Paris, 1895. 

Lionel de la Laurencie, Rameau, Paris, 1908. 
M. D. Calvocoressi, Moussorgsky, Paris, 1908. 
Same as 26. 
Cesar Cui, La Musique en Russie, Paris, 1880. 

Golenishchef-Kutuzof, Works (in Russian), St. 
Petersburg, 19 14. 



(This catalogue is taken largely from Mussorgsky by M. D. Calvocoressi 

and Gerald Abraham ('Master Musicians' ' series) by kind permission 

of the publishers, Messrs. J. M. Dent & Sons, of Gerald Abraham and 

of the editor of the series, Eric Blom.) 


Hans d'Islande (projected opera after Victor Hugo's novel) (1856). 

Oedipus Rex (choruses for a projected opera on Ozerof's play (1858-60). 

St. John^s Night (projected opera, after Gogol's story) (1858). 

Salammbo (unfinished opera, after Flaubert's novel) (1863-6). 

The Marriage (setting of the first act of Gogol's comedy) ( 1 868) . 

Boris Godunof (after Pushkin's play and Karamzin's History of the Russian 
State) (first version, 1868-9; second version, 1871-2). 

Bobyl (The Landless Peasant) (projected opera after Spielhagen's novel 
Hans und Crete) (1870). 

Mlada (scenes for the second and third acts of the collective opera- 
ballet) (1872). 

Khovanshchina (unfinished opera) (1872-80). 

The Sorotchintsi Fair (unfinished opera, after Gogol's story) (1874-80). 

Pugachevshchina (projected opera, possibly after Pushkin's History of the 
Pugachef Rising and his story 'The Captain's Daughter') (1877). 


Scherzo in B flat major (1858). 

Alia marcia notturna (1861). 

Andante, Scherzo and Finale of Symphony in D major (186 1-2). 

A Night on the Bare Mountain (1867). 

'Intermezzo symphonique in modo classico' (orchestral version of the 

piano piece, with additional trio) (1867). 
Podebrad (projected symphonic poem) (1867). 
Triumphal march, 'The Capture of Kars' (also known as 'March, with 

trio alia turca\ partly based on the Procession of Princes from Mlada) 

Transcaucasian Suite (projected work for orchestra with harps and 

piano) (1880). 


'Shamyl's March', for soloists, chorus and orchestra (1859). 
The Destruction of Sennacherib (after Byron), for chorus and orchestra 
(first version, 1867; second version, 1874). 



'Jesus Navinus' (or 'Joshua'), for alto and bass soloists, chorus and 

piano (1874-7). 
Three Vocalises for three-part female voices (1880). 
Five Russian Folksongs (No. 5 unfinished), arranged for four-part 

male voices (1880). 


(The names within brackets refer to the authors of the words.) 

'Where art thou, little star?' (Grekof) (1857; revised, with orchestral 

accompaniment, 1958). 
'Tell me gentle maiden' (anon.) (1858). 
'Du Meines Herzens Sehnusucht' (anon.) (1858). 

'The Merry Hour' (Koltsof) (first version 1858; second version 1859). 
'The leaves rustled sadly' (adapted from Pleshcheef) (1859). 
'What are words of love to you?' (Ammosof) (i860). 
'I own many palaces' (Koltsof) (1863). 
'Old Man's Song' (also known as 'The Harper's Song: An die Tiiren 

will ich schleichen' from Goethe's Wilhelm Meister) (1863). 
'King Saul' (adapted from Kozlof's translation of Byron) (both versions 


'But if I could meet thee again' (Kurochkin) (1863). 

'Wild winds blowing' (Koltsof) (1864). 

'Night' (after Pushkin) (both versions 1864; first version orchestrated 

'Kallistratushka' (Nekrassof) (both versions 1864). 
'Prayer' (Lermontof) (1865). 

'The Outcast Woman: a study in recitative' (I.G.M.) (1865). 
'Cradle Song' from Ostrovsky's 'Voevoda' ('Peasant's Lullaby') (both 

versions 1865). 
'Why do thine eyes reproach me?' (Little One) (Pleshcheef) (1866). 
'Ich wollt' meine Schmerzen ergrossen' (Heine) (1866). 
'Aus meinen Tranen' (Heine) (1866). 
'Savishna' (composer) (1866). 
'You drunken sot' (composer) (1866). 
'The Seminarist' (composer) (1866). 
'Hopak' from Shevchenko's 'Haydamaki' (trans. Mey) (1866; revised, 

with orchestral accompaniment, 1868). 
'The Dnieper' (Yarema's Song from Shevchenko's 'Haydamaki') 

(trans. Mey) (first version 1866 (lost); second version 1879). 
'Hebrew Song' (Mey) (1867). 
'The Magpie' (on two poems by Pushkin) (1867). 
'Gathering Mushrooms' (Mey) (1867). 
'The Banquet' (Koltsof) (1867). 
'The Urchin' (composer) (1867). 



'The He-Goat; a wordly story' (composer) (1867)^ 

'The Classicist' (composer) (1867). 

'Garden by the Don' (Koltsof) (1867). 

'The Orphan' (composer) (1868). 

'Yeremushka's Lullaby' (Nekrassof) (1868). 

'Child's Song' (Mey) (1868). 

Nursery (composer): 'With Nanny' (1868), 'In the Corner', 'The 

Cockchafer', 'With the doll' and 'Going to Sleep' (1870), 'The 

Hobby-Horse' and 'Matros the cat' (1872). 
'The Peep-show' (composer) (1870). 
'Evening Prayer' (ascribed to Pleshcheef (1871). 
Sunless (Golenishchef-Kutozof) : 'Between four walls', 'Thou didst not 

know me in the crowd', 'The idle, noisy day is ended', 'Boredom', 

'Elegy' and 'On the River' (1874). 
'Forgotten' (Golenishchef-Kutuzof) (1874). 
'The Epitaph' (unfinished) (composer) (1874). 
*The Mound of Nettles' (unfinished) (composer) (1874). 
Songs and Dances of Death (Golenishchef-Kutuzof) : 'Lullaby', 'Serenade' 

and 'Trepak' (1875), 'The Field-Marshal' (1877). 
'Sphinx' (composer) (1875). 

'Not like thunder from heaven' (Alexei Tolstoi) (1877). 
'Softly the spirit flew up to heaven' (Alexei Tolstoi) (1877). 
'Pride' (Alexei Tolstoi) (1877). 
'Is spinning man's work?' (Alexei Tolstoi) (1877). 
'It scatters and breaks' (Alexei Tolstoi) (1877). 
'Vision' (Golenishchev-Kutuzof) (1877). 
'The Wanderer' (Riickert, trans. Pleshcheef) (1878). 
'Song of the Flea' (Goethe, trans. Strugovshchikof) (1879). 
Gordigiani's 'Ogni sabato' (canto popolare toscano), arranged as a 

duet for mezzo-soprano and baritone (1864). 


*Porte-Enseigne Polka' (lost) (1852). 

'Souvenir d'Enfance' (1857). 

Scherzo and Finale of Sonata in E flat major (lost) (1858). 

Sonata in F sharp minor (lost) (1858). 

Scherzo in C sharp minor (1858). 

'Impromptu passionne' (1859). 

'Kinderscherz' ('Children's Games: Puss in the Corner') (1859; revised 

'Preludio in modo classico' (lost) (i860). 
'Intermezzo in modo classico' (1861). 
'Menuet Monstre' (lost) (1861). 



Scherzo of a Sonata in D (lost) (1862) (possibly identical with the lost 

scherzo of the Symphony in D major) . 
'From the recollections of my childhood': 'Nurse and I' and 'First 

Punishment: Nurse shuts me in the Dark Room' (1865). 
'Duma' (Reverie) (on a theme by V. A. Loginof) (1865). 
'La Capricieuse' (on a theme by Count L. Heyden) (1865). 
Scherzino, 'The Seamstress' (1871). 
Pictures from an Exhibition, suite (1874). 
Fantasy, 'Storm on the Black Sea' (lost) (1879). 
*On the Southern Shore of the Crimea' (two pieces, generally known as 

'Gurzuf and 'Capriccio') (1880). 
'Meditation' (Album leaf ) (1880). 
*Une Larme' (1880). 
'Au Village' (Quasi Fantasia) (?i88o). 
'Fair Scene' and 'Hopak' (from The Sorotchintsi Fair) (arranged by 

Mussorgsky) . 


Allegro and Scherzo of Sonata in C major for piano duet ( 1 860) (the 
Scherzo is a transposed version of the Scherzo in G sharp minor 
of 1858). 

Transcriptions for two, four or eight hands of works by Glinka, 
Beethoven, Balakiref, Berlioz, himself, etc. 




lbarinova (singer), 175 

Abraham, Gerald, 82, 90, 214, 255, 299 

'Album of Child Life', see Nursery song- 

Alceste (Gluck), 30, 93 

Alexandrof, Dimitri, 168 

Alexeief, M. P., 7 

Alia marcia notturna, 43-4 

'Allegro', 29, 39, 50 

'Andante', 40, 43, 44, 45 

Angela (Cui), 128 

Annals of a Sportsman (Turgenief), 85 

Antar (Rimsky-Korsakof), 100, 102-5 

Antokolsky, 125 

Armide (Gluck), 30 

Arnold, Yuri, 21 

Arsenief, 44 

Artusi (critic), 92 

Assafief, Boris, 229 

'At the Sewing-machine' (Von Made- 
weiss), 8 

Auber, Daniel Francois, 177, 197 

Autobiographical sketches, 1-8 

'Aux Tuileries', 264 

Azantchevsky, Michael, 17 


►aba yaga', 264, 297 

Bach, J. S., 5, 24, 45, 75, 244 

Baidary, 4, 202 

Baif, Jean Antoine de, 92, 93 

Balakiref, Mily, 2, 3, 6, 8, 9, 20-35, 
37-45, 48-51, 53, 57, 60, 66, 68, 69, 
76, 78-80, 82-3, 103, 106, 117, 118, 
1 2 1-2, 135, 169, 188, 195-9, 203, 
207, 210, 216, 217, 226, 241, 294, 
297> 302, 303 

Bamberg, Malvina, 25 

'Banquet, The', 9, 71, 112, 257, 259, 

Barber of Baghdad, The (Cornelius), 229 

Bardi, Count, 91, 92 

Barson, R., 221 

Bartok, Bela, 307 

Baskin (critic), 177 

Baughan, E. A., 224 

Beethoven, Ludwig van, 2, 5, 15, 18, 24, 
29> 30. 42, 45. 5O5 60, 69, 70, 75, 82, 
125, 244, 270, 300, 302 

Bellini, Vincenzo, 235, 255 

Berg, Alban, 271 

Berlioz, Hector, 3^., 5, 24, 42^., 50, 69, 
78, 82, 90, 122, 125, 143, 225, 235, 
244, 275, 281, 282, 300, 302-3 

Bertenson, Lev, 207 

Bertenson, Vassili, 198 

Bessel (publisher), 33^., 128, 132, 135, 
171-2, 176, 187, 191, 214, 215, 219, 

Betz (conductor), 156 

Bielinsky, Vissarion, 87 

Birjevye Viedomosti, 176 

Blake, William, 229 

Blom, Eric, 143, 167 

Bobyl, 1 1 8 

Bogomolof (architect), 210 

Boieldieu, Fran9ois Adrien, 244 

Boris Godunof, 3, 6, 9, u, 25, 33, ^% ^i, 
63, 67, 76-7, 80, 81, 85, 86, 89, 94, 
97, 105, 108, 109, 112, 113, Ii5-i7» 
120-1, 124, 127, 128, 132, 137-56, 
182-6, 192, 193, 199, 210, 212-13, 
215-31. 235, 239, 247-55, 258-70, 
272-3, 275-86, 291, 292, 294, 296, 
299-300. 303. 306-7; excerpts per- 
formed in public, 12 1-2, 134, 169, 
170, 181, 196, 197; first cast of, 175; 
performances of, 129, 136, 174-81, 
193, 195, 217, 218, 222; pubhcation 
of, 129, 134, 1 7 1-3, 219, 223, 227-9; 
second version, 157-73; story and 
scenes, 139-42 

Borodin, Alexander, 8, 18, 22, 29, 35-6, 
50, 57, 60, 65, 66n., 75, 83, 96, 106, 
121, 122-3, 155. 168, 169, 199, 200, 
210, 226, 242, 295, 296 

Borozdin, Nikolai, 24, 45^. 

Bortniansky, Dimitri, 17 

Botcharof (theatrical designer), 176 

Bourgault-Ducoudray, Louis Albert, 221 

Brahms, Johannes, 225 

Brayer, Jules de, 220 

Bruckner, Anton, 229, 230 

Bruneau, Alfred, 221 

Buffon, George Louis, 305 

Bulakhof (singer), 175 

Bums, Robert, 255 

'Bydlo', 264 

Byron, George, Lord, 4, 9, 68 

'By the Walls of Kazan' (Boris), 137-8, 
142, 171. 256, 265 



Gapell, Richard, 224 



'Capricieuse, La', 63 

'Captain's Daughter, The' (Pushkin), 193 

Carraud, Gaston, 222, 231 

Catalogues of Mussorgsky's works, i, 7, 
8-1 1 

Charles IX, 92 

Chausson, Ernest, 221 

'Child's Song', 4, 9, 10, 96, loi, 293 

'Child with his nurse', 9 

Chopin, Frederic Francois, 24, 41, 42, 
200, 244 

Cinna, 30 

'Classicist, The', 4, 9, 11, 70, 95, 119, 120, 

'Cockchafer, The', 9, 1 1 

Colles, H. C, 226 

Concert Rondo (Hertz), 2, 15 

Cornelius, Peter, 229 

Corsi, Jacopo, 91 

Cossack Poet, The (operetta), 191 

Cui, C^sar, 2, 3, 8, 20, 21, 22, 24-5, 
31-2, 42n., 43, 46, 50, 51, 60, 61, 65, 
66, 7i» 73> 94» 9^, 97> 100, loi, 103, 
106, 108, 115, 1 16-17, 122-3, ^28, 
167, 174, 177-80, 188, 199, 210, 
214, 216 

JL/afne (Gagliano), 92 

Dafne (Peri), 92 

D'Alheim, Marie Olenine, 220-1, 223 
Pierre, 14, 220-1, 226 

Damnation de Faust (Berlioz), 122 

Dannreuther, Edward, 224 

Danse Macabre (Liszt), 303 

Danses Macabres Russes, 4, 6, (see also 
Songs and Dances of Death) 

Dante Alighieri, 91 

Dargomyjsky, Alexander, 2, 6, 17, 19-22, 
24, 32n., 35, 45«., 50, 57, 69, 82, 94, 
96, 98, 103, 106, 108, III, 1 12-13, 
1 15-16, 125, 142, 174, 176, 186, 197, 
199. 207, 235, 261, 265, 274, 302 

Darwin, Charles, 125 

'Death's Lullaby', 259, 283, 293, 297, 

'Death's Serenade', 293, 301 

Debussy, Achille Claude, 108, 221, 246, 
269, 271, 275, 281, 307 

Dehn, Siegfried Wilhelm, 20 

Demidof, Grigory, 19, 41 

Demon, The (Rubinstein), 181 

'Derelict, The, 281 

Destouches, Franz von, 92 

Destruction of Sennacherib, 4, 9, 10, 68, 135, 

Diaghilef; Serge, 222, 223, 231 

D'Indy, Vincent, 108, 223, 224 

Dinjikof (singer), 175 

Divina Commedia, 91 

'Dnieper, The' 67, 81, 263 

Don Quixote (Strauss), 89 

Dostoevsky, Fedor, 3^?., 48, 84, 86, 176, 

206, 210 
'Dream', 1 14 
'Duma', 63 
Dyson {The New Music), 270, 275 

JLiASTERN MUSIC, 29, 5I, 52, 67, 1 23, 1 93 

Eglogue (Liszt), 303 

'Elegy', 293, 297, 298, 306 

Encyclopaedia Britannic a, 87 

En Marge de Boris Godunof (Godet), 198, 

223, 227 
'Epitaph, The', 298 
Esmeralda (Dargomyjsky), 21, 22 
Euridice (Peri), 91 
'Evening Prayer', 9, 1 1 

X* AMYNTSIN, ALEXANDER, 70, I 1 9, 1 76, 


Faure, Gabriel, 250 

Faust (Gounod), 174, 180 

Faust Symphony (Liszt), 238 

'Feast, The', 10, 285 

Fedorova, Maria Izmailovna, 189-91 

Ferrero, Giovanni, 156 

Field, John, 2, 15 

'Field Marshal Death', 185, 254, 259 

'Fileuse, La', 4 

Filippof, Terty, 195, 197, 203, 204, 207, 
208, 215 

Findeisen, Nikolai, 16, 17, 47, 48, 67, 
218, 221 

Fire-bird^ The (Balakiref), 96 

Flaubert, Gustave, 8, 11, 56, 62 

Foester, Charles, 221 

Folk-music, Russian, 82-3, 236-44, 
254-7, 260, 290, 291 

'Foma Pizzicato', 1 77, 1 78 

'Forgotten', 4, 11, 197, 272, 297, 298 

Fortunate, Sofia, 36-7, 201 

Fowler, H. W. and F. G., 59 

Francs-Juges Overture (Berlioz), 143-4 

Free School of Music, 9, 68, 69, 80, 121, 
169, 181, 196, 202, 206 

'From the recollections of my child- 
hood', 63 

'Funeral Epistle', 184 



Galilei, Vincenzo, 91 

'Garden by the Don', 71, 81, 168, 298, 

'Gate of the Bogatyrs, The', 297 



^Gathering Mushrooms', 4, 9, 10, 71 112, 

260, 282, 298 
Gedeonof, 122, 155, 173 
Germany, interest in Russian music, 

Gervinus, George Gottfried, 86 
Gevaert, Francois Auguste, 93 
Ginzburg (sculptor), 210 
Gliebof, Igor, 27, 86, 90 245, 300 
Gliebova, 32, 38 
Glinka, Mikhail, 3, 14, 17, 20, 21, 22, 

24, 31, 40, 42n., 50, 59, 64-5, 69, 82, 

104, 117, 125, 131, 162, 174, 178, 

197, 1995 203, 210, 212, 235, 236, 
244, 245, 278, 282, 295, 302 

Gluck, Christoph Willibald, 5, 30, 50, 

82, 92-3, 174, 225 
'Gnomes', 259, 264 
Godet, Robert, 7, 8, 45^2., 48, 130, i5on., 

198, 220, 223, 227, 231 

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 4, 61, 202 
Gogol, Nikolai, 9, 10, 1 1, 25, 31, 84, 87, 

95> 96, 97> 99> 1 01-2, 105, 108, 125 

Golenishchef-Kutuzof, Count 4, 11, 1 34, 

162-4, 189, 192-4, 207 
Golos, 170, 176 
Goossens, Eugene, 228 
Gounod, Charles Francois, 174-5, ^^^> 

199, 2Jin. 
Grajdanin, 177 
'Grasshopper, The', 4 
Gr^try, Andre, 92 
Griboiedof, Alexander, 123 
Gridnin, Feodor, 198 
Grigorovitch, 3, 82, 85 
'Gurzuf ', 4, 202 

Xlaidamaks (Shevtchenko), 9 

Handel, George Frederick, 24, 119, 244 

Handel and Shakespeare (Gervinus), 86 

Hans d'Islande (Hugo), 8, 22 

Hans und Grete, 1 1 8 

'Harper's Song, The', 271, 299 

Hartmann, Victor, 4, 11, 135, 182 

Haydn, Joseph, 24 

'Hebrew Song', 4, 9, 71, 81, 292, 298 

'He-Goat, The', 9, 10, 71, 95, 96, 112, 

Heine, Heinrich, 31 
Herke, Anton, 2, 15, 17, 18, 68 
Herz, Henri, 2, 15 
Herzen, Alexander, 33 
Hindemith, Paul, 275 
'Hobby-horse, The,' 114 
Holbach, Baron, 45«., 57 
Homer, 125 
'Hopak', 4, 7, 9, 10, 67, 96, 197, 213, 

260, 297 

Hostile Power (Serof), 174 
Howes, Frank, 83 
Hugo, Victor^ 8, 21, 22 

Amperial theatres, 43, 122, 135, 155, 

169, i7on., 196, 210, 219 
'Impromptu passionne', 4, 33, 34, 50 
'I'm riding to Yukka', 1 1 
Incoronazione di Poppea, d\ 92 
'Intermezzo', 4, 8, 10, 43, 50, 51, 61, 73, 

74-5, i99> 297 
'In the Corner', 9, 1 1 
'I own many palaces', 81, 293 
Iphiginie en Aulide, 30, 93 
Ippolitof-Ivanof, Mikhail, 97, 198, 207, 

Islamey (Balakiref), 51, 68n. 
Ivanof, M., 207, 2o8n. 
Izoulet, Jean, 221 


anaCek, leos, 274, 307 
Jemtchujnikof (poet), 203 
'Jesus Navinus', 4 
'Jewish Song', 9, 10, 112, 263 
Johansen (music publisher), 7, ii2 
'Joshua', 10, 67, 193, 199 
'Joyless', 298 
Judith, 57-9, 60, 67, 174 
Julius Caesar, loi 

JVallistrat', 9, 63, 95 

'Kallistratushka', 255, 256, 257, 283, 
297, 298, 299 

Karamzin, Nikolai, 138, 159 

Karatyghin, V., 12, 13, 15, 33^., 44, 47, 
107, 108, 186, 214 

Karenin, Vladimir, i, yi., ^.n., 5, 7, 8, 82 

Karevo, 1 3, 43, 44, 64 

Karmalina, Liubov, 20, 183, 185, 186 

Kashkin (critic), 219, 232 

Kashperof, Vladimir, 174 

Kastalsky, Alexander, 242 

Kavelin, Constantine, 3, 85-6 

Keldysh, 163, 239 

Kherson, 200, 201 

Khovanshchina, 3, 4, 6, 11, 14, 33, 65, 82, 
89, 118, 121, 123, 124, 126, 127, 
132, i33» i35» 164, 182-3, 185-7, 
i9i-3» i95-7> i99» 200, 202-4, 
211-13, 217, 225, 228, 242, 244, 
247, 250, 254, 259, 262-7, 272, 275, 
276, 284-6, 290, 295, 303 

Khovansky, Prince Ivan, 123, 211 

'Kinderscherz', 4, 8, 10, 34, 39, 40, 50, 51 

King Lear Overture, 40 



'King Saul', 4, 8, 10, 52-5, 81, 230, 252, 

270, 299 
'Knights' Gate at Kief, The', 182 
Koddly, Zoltan, 307 
Koechlin, Charles, 109-10, 280 
Koltzof, Alexei, 293 
Komarof, Pension, 16 
Komarova, Varvara, m., 112, 113 
Komissarjevsky (singer), 3, 169, 170, 175 
Kompaneisky, 15, 17, 20, 29, 60, 67, 68, 

184, 187, 194, 207 
Kondratief, Gennadi, 170, 175 
Korsof, B. 197 
Kostiurina, Elizabeth, 189 
Maria, 189-91 
Kostomarof, Nikolai, 3, 82, 85 
Kruglikof, Simon, 216, 218 
Krupsky, Father, 2, 6, 17 
ICrutikova (singer), 197 
Kuhnau, Johann, 89 

J_jALO, PIERRE, 222, 224 

Lamansky, Vladimir, 3, 82, 85 

Lamm, Paul, 219, 228, 229 

Lapshin, 46, 48, 50, 86, 90, 198, 205, 

24on., 266, 290, 304 
Laroche (critic), 119, 170-1, 176, 178, 

179, 184, 201 
Latysheva (singer), 47 
Lavater, Johann Kaspar, 3 1 
Lavrof, Nikolai, 195, 198 
Lavrovskaya (singer), 175 

'Leaves rustled sadly, The', 34, 55, 298 

Lecerf de la Vi6ville, 92 

Leningrad, Conservatoire, 195, 215, 230; 

library, 138, 172 
Lenormand, Rene, 280 
Leonova, Daria, 3, 4, 82, 96, 170, 187, 

i95» 197-202, 204, 205, 206 
Lermontof, Mikhail Ivanovitch, 30, 125 
Levatchef, Nikolai, 62 
Liadof, Constantine, 8, 32, 43, 175, 214, 

219, 232, 241, 282, 307 
Liapunof, Sergei, 42«., 79 
Life for the Tsar, A (Glinka), 32, 69, 174, 

180, 191 

Liszt, Franz von, 2, 3^., 5, 24, 42^., 50, 
52, 54, 68, 78, 82, III, 132-3, 199, 
200, 238, 244, 257, 297, 303 

'Little Evening Song', 120 

'Little Star', 51-3, 63, 146, 230, 255, 263 

Lobkovsky, Nikolai, 62 

Lodyjensky, 160 

Loghinof, Viatcheslaf, Leonid and Peter, 

Lomakin (conductor), 9 

London, Boris Godunof in, 223-6, 228 

'Lord of my days', 39, 40 

Lukashevitch, 3, 169, 170 

'Lullaby', 9, 10 

Lully, Jean-Baptiste, 92 

IVLadeweiss, georg von, 4, 8, 45/z. 
'Magpie, The', 9, 10, 71, 81, 265, 266,, 

296, 301 
Maid of Pskof, The (Rimsky-Korsakof), 

96, 100, 116, 120, 168, 170, 173, 174,, 

175, 180, 255 
Makarof, 176 
Makovsky family, 155 
Malherbe, Charles, 7 
Malko, Nikolai, 74, 298 
Mamontof, 219 
Mandarin's Son, The (Cui), 25 
Manfred, 37 

Manjean (conductor), 156 
Marfa's love-song {Khovanshchina) y 192 

197, 202, 213, 240/2., 254, 260, 265, 

Marinsky Theatre, 32, 120, 134, 136, 

170, 171, 174, 191, 192, I95>2i7 
Marnold, Jean, 222, 231 
Marriage, The, 9, 11, 74, 76, 95, 96-113, 

115, 143-4, 214, 227, 232, 250, 259, 

260, 264, 269, 295 
'Matros, the cat', 114 
Matveief (singer), 175 
Meligalis (composer), 228 
Melnikof (singer), 175 
Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Felix, 35, 41, 

42, 70 
Mengden, 38, 39 
'Menuet Monstre', 4 
'Menuetto', 8 

'Merry Hour, The', 34, 286 
Mey, 4 

Meyendorf, Baroness, 132 
Meyerbeer, Giacomo, 59, 67, 163, 174^ 

197, 199 
Mignon (Thomas), 174 
Minkino, 78 
'Misfortune', 298 
'Misfortune of Being Intelligent, The', 

'Misunderstood One, The', 191 
Mlada, 11, 76, 122, 123, 205, 206, 213, 

Molas, Alexandra, i, 193, 209 
Moliere, Jean-Baptiste, 109, no 
Monastyref, Roman Vassilievitch, 12 
Moniuszko, Stanislaw, 3, 24 
Monteverdi, Glaudio, 92 
Mordovtsef, D. L., 159 
Moscow, Boris produced at, 218-19; 

Conservatoire, 20; Kremlin, 29, 32; 

Mussorgsky's visits to, 32-3, 40-3, 

49; Pissemsky in, 85; Private Opera 

Co., 217 



Motte, Houdard de la, 93 
Mottl, Felix, 229 

'Mound of Nettles, The', 11, 119-20 
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, 24, 30, 94 
Murry, J. Middleton, 86, 304-5 
Musical Times, 224, 225, 226, 228^. 
Mussorgsky, Julia, 2, 12, 15, 61, 63, 64, 65 
Mussorgsky, Modest, ancestry and birth, 
2, 12-13; autobiographical sketches, 
g.v.; as accompanist, 187; as 
amateur actor, 31, .46; as pianist, 
46, 199; becomes Balakiref's pupil, 
2, 27-8; catalogues of his works, i, 
8-1 1 ; character of, 46-8, 209; 
childhood and early youth, 1-3, 
12-26; civil service appointments, 
62, 70-1, 78-9, 97, 112, 1 1 7-8, 
130, 132, 135, 187, 192, 195, 
203; composes Boris, 137-56; com- 
poses Khovanshchina, 123-7, 182-5, 
191, 203-5, 211; composes The 
Marriage', death of, 207-10; debut 
as composer, 37; descriptions of, 
18-19, 35-6, 69 (Borodin), 
1 13-14 (Komarova), 68 (Kompanei- 
sky), 65 (Liudmila Shestakova), 
1 12-13 (Nadejda Rimsky-Korsa- 
kof), 36-7 (Sofia Fortunato) ; dip- 
somania and decline in health, 19, 
64, 129, i34-5» 184-5, 187, 194-8, 
205, 210; estrangement from Bala- 
kiref, 80; 'finger-prints', 265-8; 
founds school of singing with Leon- 
ova, 205; Guards commission re- 
signed, 30, 49; influence of contem- 
porary writers on, 3, 82, 85-6; 
influence of Russian folk-music on, 
82-3, 234-44, 254-7, 260; letters 
of (extracts), 29-35, 40-2, 44-5. 
57-61. 69-80 98-105, 108, 116, 
122-8, 131-5, 155, 164, 171-2, 
179-80, 183-5, 187-8, 190-2, 199- 
201, 203-4; lives in 'community' 
in Petersburg, 62, 64; lives with 
Naumof, 189; lives with Rimsky- 
Korsakof, 121, 134; loss of family 
property, 43, 44, 60-1, 64; maturity, 
81; Moscow visits, 32, 40-3, 49; 
monument to, 210; nervous break- 
downs, 8, 30, 31, 37-8, 47; realism 
in his music, 86-95; refuses to visit 
Liszt with Stassof, 132-3; remodels 
Boris, 120, 159-68; Serof's Judith 
criticised by, 57-9; technique and 
style, 49-56, 234-307, 301 (piano 
style); tour with Leonova, 4, 197- 
202; views on art, 5; views on 
'German routine', 70, 74, 75 
Mussorgsky, Peter, 2, 12-13, 15, 18 
Mussorgsky, Philaret, i, 13, 15, 29, 30, 
3i«., 37, 41, 43-4, 61, 64 

Mussorgsky: Letters and Documents, 118 
Muzykalny Listok, 172, 176 
Muzykalny Sviet, 1 76 

IN ANNY AND l', 63 

Napravnik, Eduard, 121, 156, 162, 169, 

170, 174, 175, 179, 230 
Naumof Paul, i, 189-91, 194, 199 
Naumova, Elizabeth Izmailovna, 189 
Nekrassof, Nikolai, 4, 9, 257 
Neronof, 203 
Newman, Ernest, 167, 225, 265, 302n., 

Newmarch, Rosa, 224 
Nicholas, Emperor, 2 
'Night' fantasy, 4, 8, 10, 63, 81, 96, 269, 

292, 295, 297 
Night in May, A (Rimsky-Korsakof), 216 
Night on the Bare Mountain, A, 9, 14, 25, 

31, 38-9, 67-8, 71-4, 76^, 123, 

183, 186, 196, 205, 213, 217, 234, 
.. 295, 297-8, 300, 302 
Nijni-Novgorodians, The (Napravnik), 174 
Nikolaevitch, Grand-Duke Constantine, 

Nikolaief, 200, 201 
Nikolsky, Vladimir, 3, 6, 14, 64, 65, 71, 

73, 90, loi, 102, 109, 118, 137, 159, 

189, 234 
Nilsson, Christine, 174 
'Not like thunder from heaven', 19 
Novoe Vremya, 207, 209n 
'Nuages', 269 
Nursery song-^^t, 11, 14, 96, 1 13-14, 128, 

131, 132, 201, 258, 269, 297 



Oedipus Rex, 8, 28, 29, 30, 31, 38-9, 40, 

43, 50, 55-6 
Old Believers, 118, 123, 183, 185, 211, 

'Old Believers' Song', 1 1 
Oleg (Sarti), 136 
'On the River', 260, 272, 279, 292, 297, 

298, 306 
Opotchinin, Alexander, 97, 112, 118 
Opotchinina, Nadejda, 34, 47, 97, 183 
Opritchnik (Tchaikovsky), 128 
Orfei, 176 
Orfeo (Gluck), 174 
Orlof, 19 
'Orphan, The', 4, 9, 10, 62, 81, 96, loi, 

231, 271, 293, 298 
Ostrovsky, Alexander, 9 
'Outcast Woman, The', 63 
Oxford History of Music, 224 
Ozerof, 28 




Paletchek (singer), 175 

Pamphlet music, 118-20 

Pdquerette (Pugny), 38 

Pargolovo, 131, 155 

Paride ed Elena, 93 

Paris, Boris in, 218, 220-3 

Parry, Sir Charles, 251, 299 

Pashchenko, 199 

Pathetic Symphony (Tchaikovsky), 244 

Patti, Adelina, 174 

Pavlovna, Grand-Duchess Elena, 119 

Pazdirek, Handbook of Musical Litera- 
ture, 8 

'Peasant's Lullaby', 10, 63, 95, 255 

'Peep-show, The', 4,. 9, 11, 118-20 

Pelle'as et M^lisande, 108, 246, 271, 275 

Peri, Jacopo, 91-2 

Perof, 125 

Peter-and-Paul School, 15, 16 

Petrof, 3, 68, 116, 170, 175, 183, 191, 194, 

Philosophie de la Nature, 45, 57 

Pictures from an Exhibition, 4, 11, 14, 76, 
182, 199, 259, 264, 297, 301 

Pissemsky, Alexei, 3, 3 in., 82, 85 

Piatonova (singer), 3, 169, 170, 173, 175 

Plescheef (poet) , 1 95 

Podebrad, 75-6 

Poe, Edgar Allan, 2 1 o 

Polonaise {Boris Godunof), 12 1-2, 128, 
169, 268 

Polovtsian Dances (Borodin), 295 

Poltava, 199-200 

'Porte-Enseigne Polka', 8, 18, 32 

Pougin, Arthur, 222 

Power of Evil, The (Serof), 170 

Prague, 69 

'Prayer', 63, 293 

'Prelude', 4 

'Preludio in modo classico', 8 

Preobrajensky Guards, 2, 12, 18, 19 

Prince Igor (Borodin), 65, 96, 242 

'Promenade', 182, 259, 260, 264 

Puccini, Giacomo, 92 

Pugachevshchina, 10, 193 

Purgold, (Councillor), 3, 120, 170 

Purgold, Alexandra, 3, 106, 155, 169, 

Purgold, Nadejda, 3, 155, 169 

Pushkin, Alexander, 4, 9, 66, 112, 125, 
137-8, 142, 165, 168, 176, 193 


LB, MRS. v., 1 75 

Raabe, Peter, 229 

'Ragamuffin, The', 9, 10, 95, 257, 258, 

293, 295-6, 298 
Rameau, Jean Philippe, 92, 93 
Rapoport (critic), 176 

Raskol, 85, 1 1 8 

Ratcliffe (Gui), 96, 1 16-17, ^T^j ^74 

Rauchfus, Dr., 131 

Ravel, Maurice Joseph, 237-8, 271, 307 

Realism in art, 87-95 

Reicha, Joseph, 244 

Rembrandt van Ryn, Paul, 87 

Repin, Ilya, 125, 129, 133, 134, 135, 
205, 207 

Requiem (Mozart), 30 

Rheingold, 89 

Riabinin, Ivan Trofimovitch, 159, 239, 
254, 255, 269, 291, 294 

Riemann, Hugo, 5-6, 86. 91, 271 

Riesemann, Oskar von, 54^., 87/?., I37n., 
148, 226, 227, 252 

Riga, 228 

Rimsky-Korsakof, Andrei, i, 3, 5, 8, 10, 
14, 22, 23-4, 29, 33n., 40, 42n., 43, 
46, 47, 48, 50, 60, 64-5, 70, 71, 
75-8, 82-3, 96, 98-108, 1 15, 1 18-23, 
136, 148, i50n., 151, 155, 160, 168, 
i70> 175, 177, 188, 191-3, 196, 
199, 202, 204, 206, 210, 213, 254, 
255j 261, 302, 307; Folk-Songs of, 
240^., 241, 254; Memoirs of, 23, 24, 
66,68,77-8, 106, 117, 130, 173, 174, 
184, 187-9, 196, 198, 205, 208-9, 
218; revises Mussorgsky's works, 

Rimsky-Korsakof, Nadejda, 19, 112, 115 

Rinuccini, Ottavio, 91 

Riumin, Mrs., 2 

Rogneda (Serof), 64, 76, 119, 174 

Rojdestvensky^ S., 205 

Ropartz, Guy, 7 

Rossini, Gioacchino, 174 

Rostislav, 184 

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 92 

Rubinstein, Anton, 4, 8, 37, 39, 46, 69, 
178, 181, 199 

Rubinstein, Nikolai, 41 

'Rude Rascal, The', 4 

Ruijneman, Daniel, 97, 233 

Rurik, Prince, 

Ruslan and Liudmila (Glinka), 20.. 69, 1 17, 
162, 174, 178, 180, 181, 282, 295 

Russalka (Dargomyjsky), 21, 57 

'Russian Five', 50 

Russian Musical Gazette, 13, 221 

Russian Music Society, 4/7., 8, 37, 39, 43, 
68, 112, 119, 121, 169, 206 

Russian Opera, 224 

Russkaya My si, 219 

Russky Mir, 176 

Russky Muzykalny Viestnik, 5,17 


adko (Rimsky-Korsakof), (^6, 70, 76-8, 



Sadler's Wells Theatre, 300 

Saint Elizabeth, 304 

St. John's Night, see JVight on the Bare 

St. Petersburg, Conservatoire, 18, 20, 69, 
77,118-19,210,217; Grand Theatre, 
174; Malo-Yaroslavets Restaurant, 
184, 187; Marinsky Theatre, g.v.; 
Musical and Dramatic Amateur 
Circle, 195; Musical and Theatrical 
Messenger, 37; music in, 20-2, 32n., 
41, 68, 69, 76, 79, 217; Mussorgsky's 
'community' at, 62; Peterburgskaya 
Gazeta, 170; Peterburgsky Listok, 170, 
177; Sankt Peterburgskye Viedomosti, 
171, 177, 178; schools in, 15-16 {see 
also School for Cadets) ; Pissemsky's 
influence in, 85; Voskresny Listok 
Muzyki, 8; Wagner concerts at, 

Saint-Saens, Camille, 220 

Salammbo, 8, 9, 11, 50, 56, 60, 62,-3, 67, 
68, 81, 95, 112, 166, 193, 259, 260, 

Samson (Handel), 119 

Sand, George, 131 

Sariotti (singer), 96, 175 

Sarti, Giuseppe, 136 

Savelova, Z., 45n., 64 

'Savishna', 4, 9, 10, 67, 74, 95, loi, 258, 
259, 295-7 

Scherzi, 4, 8, 10, 29, 31, 36, 37, 40-5, 
50-1, 122, 297 

Scherzino, 8, 9, 10 

Schonberg, Arnold, 28, 271 

School for Cadets of the Guards, 2, 8, 1 5, 
16, 19, 135, 184, 210 

Schroeder (singer), 175 

Schubert, Franz, 24, 41, 42, 50, 60, 82, 
199, 235, 244, 255, 297, 303 

Schumann, Robert, 3^., 15, 24, 30, 35-6, 
40-2, 50, 60, 82, 104, 199, 235, 244, 
271, 282, 288, 297, 303 

Seailles, 87 

'Seamstress, The', 8, 9 

'Seminarist, The', 4, 9, 10, 67, 95, 162, 
297, 298 

'Serenade', 259 

Shakespeare, William, 86, 109, 125, 229 

Shaliapin, Feodor, 219 

'Shamyl's March', 34 

Shebalin, 214 

Shestakova, Liudmila, 3, 8, 64-6, 69, 73, 
77, 100, 123, 130, 138, 170, 185, 187, 
189—91, 194-7, 201, 203 

Shevtchenko, Taras, 3, 9, 82, 85 

Shilovo, 98 

Shilovskaya, Maria, 32, 40, 47 

Shilovsky, Stepan, 32, 38, 43 

Shiskof (theatrical designer), 176 

Shistakof, 28 

Siegfried, 263, 274 

Smetana, Bedrich, 69 

Sobolef (singer), 175 

Sokalsky, General, 206 

Solovief (critic), 171, 176, 178, 201 

Sonata in A flat major (Beethoven), 2, 15, 

34^., 38 
Sonatas (Mussorgsky), 30, 31, 45 
'Song of the Flea', 4, 202 
'Song of the Golden Fish' (Balakiref), 297 
Songs and Dances of Death, 6^ 185, 187, 193, 

217, 246, 258, 265, 278 
'Song to Georgia' (Balakiref), 297 
Sophocles, 8, 28 
Sorotchintsi Fair, The, 3, 4, 6, 76, 82, 121, 

123, 183, 186, 187, 192, 193, 199, 

201, 203, 204, 213-14, 217, 219, 264 
'Souvenir d'Enfance', 19, 50 
'Sphinx', 259, 278, 297 
Spielhagen, Friedrich, 118 
Stakheef, 198 
Stanford, Sir Charles, 246 
Stassof, Dimitri, \n., ^n, 20, 21, 25, 37, 

39, 65, 112, 117, 118, 129, 178, 

179, 193 
Stassof, Vladimir, i, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 15, 17, 
20, 21, 24, 25-6, 29, 30, 47, 48, 60, 
62, 64, 65-6, 69, 74, 78, 83, 86, 90, 
94, 106, 108, 115, 117-30, 132-3, 
135, 137, 138, 155, 156, 159-62, 164, 

169, 170-3, 176, 178-80, 182, 184- 
98, 200, 203-4, 207, 208, 216, 224, 
227, 232, 235, 259 

Stassova, Pauline, 130, 135, 179, 185 
Stassovna, Sofia, see Fortunato, Sofia 
Stassovna, Varvara, see Komarova 
Stassovna, Zinotchka, 1 13-14 
Stefan, Paul, 227 

Stone Guest, The (Dargomyjsky), 22, 82, 
94, 96, 108, 111-12, 1 15-16, 142, 

170, 171, 174, 207, 274 
'Storm on the Black Sea', 4, 202 
Strakhof, 177, 178 
Strangways, A. H. Fox, 244 
Strasburg library, 4, 5, 7 
Strauss, Johann, 89 

Richard, 90, 108, 225 

Stravinsky, Igor, 243 

Sunday Times, 225 

Sunless, 11, 63, 94, 182-3, 185, 186, 187, 
226, 259, 260, 262, 265, 269, 272, 
278, 279, 281, 292-3, 297, 298, 
301, 306 

Sutgof, General, 16-17 

Symons, Arthur, 224 

Symphonic fantastique (Berlioz), 275, 282 

Symphony in D major, 40, 41, 43, 51, 57 

JL a 

amara (Balakiref), 28, 294 
Taneief, Sergei, 218 



Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilytch, 127-8, 178, 

218, 225, 240//., 244 
Tcherepnin. Alexander, 97, 233 
Tcherepnin, Nikolai, 214 
Tchernyshevsky, 62 
Tchirikof, Ivan, 13 
'Tell me, gentle maiden', 8, 31 
'Tell me, star', see 'Little Star' 
Tikhonof, 175 
Tikhvin, 8, 30 
Tiutchef, B., 2, 13 
Tolstoi, Count Alexe'i, 4, 193 
Tolstoi, Theophilus, 119 
Toropets, 2, 13, 57 
Totentanz (Liszt), 68 
Tovey, Donald, 28, 297 
'Trepak', 187, 246, 259, 263, 264, 296, 

297> 298, 301 
'Triumph of Bacchus, The' (Dargomyj- 

sky), 69 
Troitsky, 86 

Tsar's Bride, The. 96, 254 
Tsarskoe-Selo, 190, 193 
Turgenief, Ivan, 3, 82, 85 



Ulybyshef, 22 
'Urchin, The', 71 



Vassilief, V. L, 175, 197 
V. v., 175, 197 
Vecchi, Orazio, 91 
'Vecchio Castello, IF, 264 
Veliaminof, 106 
Verdi, Giuseppe, 174, 225, 235 
Verstovsky, 64 
Virchow, 86 
'Vision', 193 

Vital Qiiestion, The (Tchernyshevsky), 62 

Voevode, The (Ostrovsky), 9 

Voiodia, 129 

Volok, 44-5 

Vsiemirnaya Illiistratsia, 1 76 


AGNER, RICHARD, 57, 59, 60, 78, 82, 

88, III, 143, 167, 174, 177, 225, 

235, 263, 274, 276, 302, 303 

'Wanderer, The', 195 

Weber, Carl-Maria von, 225 

Weimar, 132 

Wellesz, Egon, 227 

'Where art thou?', see 'Little Star' 

'Why do thine eyes reproach me?' 67 

'Wild winds blowing', 63, 81, 259, 263, 

267, 278, 297, 298 
'Witches', see Night on the Bare Mountain 
'With Nanny', 1 1, 96, 258, 259, 295 
'With the Doll', 9, 1 1 
Wolf, Hugo, 229, 307 
Wolfes, Felix, 228 
Wolfurt, Kurt von, I37«., 227, 307 
Wotton, Tom, 302«. 
Wozzeck, 271 
Wyzewa, T. de, 220 

JL AKOVLEF, 1 76, 180 

Yalta, 200-2 
Yastrebtsef, 216 
Tears of Youth, 7, 52/1,, 61, 227 
'Yeremushka's Lullaby', 4, 9, 10, 22, 62, 
81, 94 96, loi, 231, 257, 296, 297 
'You disdain my words of love', 40 

Zjaremba, 1 19 
Zola, Emile, 87 
Zveref, 135 



Boris Godunof, 89, 151, 152, 166, 248, 251, 
252-3, 263, 267, 268, 273, 274, 
276-7, 278-9 
Prologue, scene i, 144, 145, 248, 258 

scene 2, 239, 283 
Act I, scene i, 153 
scene 2, 153??. 
Act II, 147, 256 
Act III, 249, 281 
Act IV, scene i, 240, 279, 280 

scene 2, 146, 153^., 154, 303-4 


Boris, 147-8, 149, 248 
Dimitri, 145 

Pimen, 146, 153, 154, 303-4 
police officers, 150 
Rangoni, 247-8, 263 
Shuisky, 148, 149 
Varlaam, 150 
Xenia, 256 

'Death's Lullaby', 267, 277 

Finger-prints, 266, 268 
'Forgotten', 285 

Goethe, song from, 61 

'Joyless', 285 

'Kallistratushka', 256 

Khovanshchina, 79, 89, 262, 268, 276, 280 

Prelude, 250 

Act II, 267 

Act V, 212, 242 

'King Saul', 54 

Liszt, Faust Symphony, 238, 239 
Saint Elizabeth oratorio, 304 

Marriage, The, 98, 107, iii, 250, 261 

'Night', 269 

Night on the Bare Mountain, 71, 72 

'Polonaise', 2G8 
'Prayer', 250 

Ravel, Sonata for violin and 'cello, 237 
Rimsky-Korsakof, A Hundred Russian Folk- 
Songs, 2^on. 
Adaptation of Boris Godunof, 282, 283 
Adaptation of 'Trepak', 247 
Russian folk-tunes, 238, 240, 241, 242, 

Scherzo in G sharp minor, 51 
Serof, Judith, 58 
Sunless, No. 3, 269 

No. 6, 249, 272, 275 

'Trepak', 246, 247, 273, 275 

Wagner, Siegfried, Act i, 275 
'Where art thou, little star', 52-3 
'Wild winds blowing', 247 

*Yeremushka', 296 


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Library Bureau 

Cat. No. 1137 

927,81 M97cab 

3 5002 00396 0254 

Calvocoressi, M. D. 

Modest Mussorgsky, his life and works. 

ML 410 .M97 C33 

Calvocoressi^ M. D* 1877- 

Modest Mussorgsky^ his life 
and works 

ML 410 .M97 C33 

Calvocoressi, M. D. 1877- 

Modest Mussorgsky, his li±e 
and vorks